The morning of Friday 5th February 2016, was a fateful one. What started as a normal Friday morning quickly turned into a never-ending nightmare. A disaster that took the world by surprise occurred as the clock struck 07h45.

The earth’s crust opened and swallowed a structure at Lily mine, Vantage Gold, in Lows Creek near Barberton in Mpumalanga.

During the collapse, 78 employees were trapped underground and after hours of rescue operations, 3 employees (Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyerende) were unfortunately still trapped in lamp room, that were working in at the time of the accident.

 

A YEAR LATER

It’s been over a year since the catastrophe at Lily Mine occurred. The fall of ground trapped and stole the lives of Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyerende. The container has not been recovered and their families are still seeking closure.

More than 800 employees were left jobless and without hope when operations came to a standstill but things seem to be turning around as Lily Mine and Barbrooks Mine have been given a life line by Canadian Company Galane Gold.

 

UPDATE

Negotiations between Galane Gold, Lily Mine and AMCU have fallen through.

A meeting was held a Barbertons Lily Mine between mine management and The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) at the beginning of August 2017. The main purpose of the meeting was to update members on the possible merger between Vantage Goldfields and Galane Gold. The Canadian based gold producer expressed interest and intent to invest money into Vantage Gold, which could see the re-opening of both Barbrooks and Lily Mine.

Speaking at the meeting Business Rescue Practitioner at Lily Mine Rob Devereux said, “When mine operations commence post the merger all 800 employees will be re-instated as permanent mine employees, not contractors.”

He said the merger was to be completed during the following week and Galane Gold would invest into the business rescue plan of Lily Mine, and that Barbrook Mine also formed part of the deal.

Devereux expressed that the monetary transaction process would be concluded within 100 days from when the agreement is signed.

Lily Mine CEO Mike McChesney said that AMCU leadership would be informed on a weekly basis, regarding the merger and believed this merger would be successful and that everyone would be back at work.

Unfortunately a conclusion on the Lily Mine commission of inquiry could not be given as they were still awaiting a final report from the presiding officer, the inquiry was completed in June 2017.

 

Galane Gold CEO Nick Brodie said in a media statement that Vantage Goldfields had been unable to meet the conditions set out by the Letter of Intent (LOI) and therefore were unable to sign an acquisition agreement.

AMCU Lily Mine Chairperson Frans Makhabela said members were informed that the talks had fallen through.

“Our members are disappointed by the news because they were looking forward to going back to work. Times have been tough and jobs are scarce. We are going to put pressure on the directors to sell their shares at a cheaper rate for the mine to find investors, as well as pressurise the DMR and government to find solutions to this matter.” he said AMCU would not give up and national office has since met with Vantage Gold management.

 


 

STATEMENT FROM AMCU PRESIDENT JOSEPH MATHUNJWA

5 February 2017

It’s a shame and a disgrace for the entire mining industry, for the Department of Mineral and Resources and the Government in its entirety that one year after the Lily Mine disaster there is no closure for the families of Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyarenda, their comrades and the community of Barberton.

As we come full circle since the tragic collapse of a crown pillar that swallowed three miners into the belly of the earth, we mourn the derelict apathy from authorities to decisively deal with this matter.

The mining industry has been the bedrock of South African vampire capitalism, whose tree has been watered by the sweat and blood of cheap black migrant labour. Since the advent of our constitutional democracy, more than 6 800 workers had been killed by 2012. In the past century more than 1 million workers have been permanently disabled by mine accidents, which translate to over 25 workers daily. This does not include workers who have been incapacitated by chronic diseases incurred within their occupations.

This represents a genocide and the government needs to act decisively!

Mining companies in this country are literally getting away with murder which is enabled by a weak legislative framework that was further liberalised in 1994 with co-regulation doctrines. This discourse has continued unabated to the recent process of rationalising the COIDA and ODIMWA with a view of repealing the latter.

Workers have been the biggest losers throughout the process, as they have to pay the ultimate price with their lives. Mine Health and Safety remains the elephant in the room with recent statistics showing that the Gold and Platinum sector are the biggest sponsors of this tragedy.

The Lily Mine disaster needs to be elevated to a NATIONAL DISASTER and be treated with the seriousness that will send a positive message to other companies not to replicate this tragedy.

The attitude adopted by authorities right now sends a very bad message that an incident of this magnitude can be left unattended for an entire year without accountable consequences. This laisez faire attitude is also manifested in the manner which these fascist corporations conduct their business.

The Lily Mine disaster investigation has not been concluded and the Chief Inspector has not tabled any report to the public. Three workers are still trapped under ground and their families have not received closure. No one has been called to account nor held responsible.

The DMR, Government Executives and the owners of the Mine have buried their heads in the sand hoping that this matter will miraculously go away.

A CALL FOR ACTION

When this tragedy occurred in February last year, many commitments were made from as high as the office of Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. We are sad to report that 12 months down the line, those commitments have not been fulfilled.

The Minister promised financial assistance to the families and to date, workers have not been remitted. There has not been assistance to sink another hole to try and extract the container with the three workers.

Initially the budget for this was R400 000, which the company and state could not secure in order to finalise this operation. There has not been any concerted cooperation from public private partnerships in tragic moments, with the same zeal that we see in the tender system.

We call on business to establish a search and recovery fund to sponsor an operation that will seek to extract the container with the three trapped workers. This is a tragedy where we should see unified cooperation from stakeholders, to ensure that the container and the workers who are trapped in it are retrieved.

CONCLUSION

The AMCU family commemorates the Lily Mine disaster by remembering our comrades who are still trapped underground. We will never forget Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyarenda who are trapped in a quest for a dignified and living wage.

In our quest for Social Justice for these trapped workers, we have written to the highest office in the land requesting the intervention of the State President, Honourable GJ Zuma. However, we have not received a response on our pleas.

Today we send a cry out to our leaders that they should prioritise this matter and do everything possible to retrieve the container and the three workers so that their families can finally find closure.

We further make a clarion call to the Chamber of Mines and the business community as a whole to cooperate in efforts to retrieve the container. We demand closure on the investigation at the mine and that a report on the incident be published.

Beyond this, we demand that all those responsible by commission or omission be called to account. We further demand that disciplinary action be taken against all who neglected their responsibilities, resulting in the disaster. All parties found guilty need to be disciplined and criminally charged.

Lastly, we recognise the agony of the families whose loved ones are still trapped underground. We pray for their strength as this matter remains unresolved. We further issue a word of support to all the workers who have been affected by mine closure due to this tragic event.

We commit ourselves to continue fighting for justice to prevail and that all that is due to them will and shall be remitted. We call for unity amongst workers in solidarity with the Lily Mine workers.

We realise that there are dissenting voices in the manner in which this tragedy should be dealt with and commemorated. We encourage comrades not to be partisan in their views but uphold their living motto that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’, and not only those affiliated to them.

Yours in social justice,

President Joseph Mathunjwa.