'Sasol could have prevented colliery deaths'

OWN CORRESPONDENT, Johannesburg | Monday 11.00AM.

THE management of Sasol Limited’s Middlebult Colliery may be charged with culpable homicide after the Secunda magistrate’s court ruled this week that it could have prevented an underground explosion that killed 53 miners five years ago.

The ruling brought an end to one of South Africa’s longest running inquests and also established for the first time in South African legal history that coal dust was the primary fuel for an underground mine explosion.

International mining expert Professor Albert Davies testified that the explosion at the colliery on May 13, 1993 was caused by, among other things, poor ventilation and poor standards of air-borne dust suppression.

Professor Davies said the explosion was primarily a coal dust explosion initiated by a much smaller methane gas explosion.

A legal representative of the Chemical Workers Industrial Union (CWIU), Richard Spoor, said on Friday that it was the first time in South African mining history that coal dust had been directly implicated as the primary fuel for an underground explosion.

“Internationally, the mining industry has recognised the fact that coal dust is responsible for many big explosions, but the industry in South Africa has steadfastly denied this because coal dust explosions are entirely preventable and admission would amount to an admission of negligence,” said Spoor.

He said that the finding will open the way for the families and dependants of black victims to claim additional compensation and for a speedy settlement. He said while the widows and orphans of white miners who died in the explosion had been compensated by Sasol, black families had not.

The court’s findings will be submitted to the Attorney General who will decide whether or not to prosecute Middelbult Colliery management.—African Eye News Service

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