'I was alone underground, I’m still alone'

Pitsi Elias was injured when he went down the mines in 1998 and is still struggling to get what's owed to him. (Troy Enekvist)

Pitsi Elias was injured when he went down the mines in 1998 and is still struggling to get what's owed to him. (Troy Enekvist)

It was May 15 1998. I was a doing my rounds underground at 3.35pm, on level 16. When I heard the blast, I was alone. It must have been 25 metres from me. I don’t know. I tried to run away but I inhaled the gases and felt the smoke coming into my lungs as I fell to the ground.

No one would have known that I was still underground when the explosive went off. I was alone – or so I thought. But two of my colleagues were in a different tunnel and they helped me. They’re still the only people who help me, even now.

I should’ve been paid out because I was injured at work. Instead, the mine demoted me from a shop steward to a locomotive driver. But it was fine because the doctors said I should not work underground anymore.

But I know that someone must have known I was still down there that day. They did it on purpose – they wanted to remove me as a shop steward.

I sent letters to the presidency and the matter was referred to the minister at the time. I even paid a lawyer R38 000 to take my case to the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration], but he disappeared with my money.

I don’t have a cent, not even to take taxis.

I have all the proof and the evidence right here. I sent a letter to the public protector last year; she told me that I should contact the CEO of the mine about the matter.

I want to expose the mines. It’s been 20 years but all the evidence is here in these documents. This is all I have; the proof to get what’s due to me. - Pitsi Banana Elias, as told to Mosibudi Ratlebjane, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s social justice fellow at the Mail & Guardian

 
Mosibudi Ratlebjane

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