Goldminers face grim wait for rescue

Almost 600 miners of the 3 200 trapped underground have been rescued from Harmony Gold’s Elandsrand mine on Thursday morning, a union official said.

“They are quite angry because they feel that management has not communicated with them about the rescue operation or how long it would take,” said National Union of Mineworkers’ (Num) national health and safety chairperson Peter Bailey shortly after 6am.

He said 200 miners had been underground since Tuesday night.

Bailey said the miners who had reached the surface were exhausted, hungry, suffering from stress and relieved.

The cause of the accident was in dispute, the union attributing it to a rock fall, the company saying a pipe carrying chilled water down the shaft, to cool air underground, broke and damaged equipment.

Amelia Soares, spokesperson for the mine owner, Harmony Gold, said rescue workers were in touch with the workers, who have adequate ventilation and water.
“Nobody was injured, but there was extensive damage to the steel work and electrical feeder cords,” she said.

Rescue workers were trying to adapt a second lift, usually used to carry waste and equipment, to bring the trapped miners out. The second cage can only raise about 300 people an hour.

Soares said some workers were making their way to an adjacent AngloAshanti mine in an attempt to leave by its shaft.

The Elandsrand mine taps into the world’s largest gold deposits and some of the miners were working on sinking the shaft to 3,5km to tap richer seams and extend the life of the mine.

NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said workers at the mine had previously complained that the shaft had “not been maintained for ages”.

“Our guys there tell us that they have raised concerns about the whole issue of maintenance of shafts with the mine [owners] but they have not been attended to,” he said. The union also criticised Harmony Gold for failing to have an escape shaft or route as many other mines have.

South African mines have a poor safety record. The NUM said 12 times as many people are killed in mining accidents in South Africa than in Australia. Nearly 200 miners were killed last year and a similar number are expected to die this year.

About 440 000 people work in South African gold, coal and platinum mines.

In July, the Minerals and Energy Affairs Minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, toured a gold mine where four people were killed and asked why mine owners had failed to meet a government target to cut fatalities by at least 20% a year. The numbers of deaths has remained consistent for the past three years. “We are where we were last year. It doesn’t seem we are getting the improvement,” she said.

The NUM says lack of investment is the main problem. The mine owners say South Africa faces unique problems because its mines are among the deepest in the world. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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