State sends condolences to dead miners' families and friends
"The inspectors immediately went to the mine after being notified of the accident and later issued a section 54 instruction to the employer to withdraw workers from the relevant mining areas," spokesperson Zingaphi Jakuja said.
Department officials would conduct a comprehensive investigation to determine the cause of the weekend accident, she said in a statement.
The five miners died at Gold Fields's KDC West mine at the weekend. The company said a fire broke out in the Ya-Rona shaft in Merafong, near Carletonville, west of Johannesburg on Saturday night. Fourteen miners were taken to hospital. By Sunday, three had been discharged.
To date this year there have been 63 mining fatalities and 1 425 injuries.
"This indicates that the health and safety in the mining sector is still a serious challenge," Jakuja said.
Earlier the South African Chamber of Mines also extended its condolences.
"We are acutely aware of the pain and suffering brought about as a result of the untimely loss of a relative," CEO Reggie Sibiya.
Rhinos are more important
The chamber – an industry employer's association – said it would continue working with the government and unions towards safer working conditions.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) claimed more of a fuss was made over the deaths of rhinos or white workers than those of black workers.
"We know if it was the rhinos killed there was going to be lot of noise made by some, or if it was the white workers," Cosatu Gauteng spokesperson Dumisani Dakile said.
The National Union of Mineworkers, a Cosatu affiliate, said the five died of asphyxiation and said they had been working overtime loading mud without available compressed air.
Comment could not immediately be obtained from the company on these claims.
Dakile said the government should take "drastic steps" against mines exposing workers to dangerous conditions.
Cosatu was planning an urgent meeting with the departments of labour, and mineral resources and energy, to discuss how to prevent such events in future. It also planned a national day of mourning.
Gold Fields's chief executive officer Nick Holland earlier described the deaths as shocking.
"We extend our deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathy to their families, friends and colleagues. We are in the process of contacting their next-of-kin and will do all in our power to assist them through this difficult time. We will thoroughly investigate the causes of this accident."
Executive vice-president and head of Gold Fields's South Africa region Peter Turner said there had been 655 fatality-free working days (two years and nine months) at the shaft before Saturday's accident.
"This incident is highly regrettable in view of the significant safety improvements we've experienced on this mine."
The shaft, and the other 12 shafts on the KDC operation, had been closed and the company would cooperate in an investigation.
Comment was not available from the mineral resources department. – Sapa