Thousands down tools over mine safety

Thousands of mineworkers took to the streets of central Johannesburg on Tuesday, urging industry bosses to beef up safety in South African mines.

“We demand safety in mines and we want to show the world that we are tired. Time has come for mine owners to change,” said Senzeni Zokwana, president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Zokwana said miners sign a contract for their labour, not their lives. This year, there have been more than 200 deaths in the mining industry, from 199 last year and 202 in 2005.

Major mining companies said they were badly affected by the one-day strike.

Gold Fields spokesperson Andrew Davidson said about 67% of its workforce had not reported for work on Tuesday. The biggest stayaway was at Kloof mine with 76% of the workforce absent, followed by 75% absent at South Deep mine. At the Driefontein Beatrix mines, 66% of the workers were absent.

Impala Platinum (Implat) said about 3 500 ounces of platinum production would be lost at its Rustenburg and Marula mines. It said 20% of its workforce had reported for duty at Rustenburg and 10% at Marula. Attendance at the refineries in Springs was 75%.

“Whilst our safety performance in FY [financial year] 2007 was disappointing, our record shows a steady improvement over the previous five years,” Implats chief executive David Brown said.

Harmony Gold spokesperson Amelia Soares said some of its mines noted a 50% stayaway while others were operating at 90% to 100% of capacity. The extent to which production would be affected would only be known by late on Tuesday.

Alan Fine of AngloGold Ashanti said the company had decided in advance that it would close all operations on Tuesday, and management and employees had spent their day on safety-related matters.

Fine said a “large majority” of employees had not arrived for work and most of the mines had been substantially affected.

Anglo Platinum and Lonmin were not available for comment on Tuesday.

Protest march

At about noon, protesters who had gathered at Beyers Naude Square (formerly the Library Gardens) in Johannesburg set off to the Chamber of Mines to hand over a memorandum to executive director Frans Barker.

The memorandum outlined demands that the government improve pay and training for mine inspectors, prosecute those found guilty of negligence in mine fatalities, implement the recommendations of the Leon commission, and see that mining companies take full responsibility for any fatalities.

Earlier in the day, Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told the marchers: “It can’t be right that in an attempt to get food on the table we sacrifice our lives.”

In accepting the memorandum, Barker agreed that safety in mines is deteriorating. He said the chamber will work with stakeholders in devising plans to improve safety in the mining sector.

Zokwana told marchers that the NUM fully agrees with President Thabo Mbeki’s directive that a review of all mines in the country be undertaken.

Mbeki ordered a safety audit of mines after 3 200 workers were temporarily trapped underground at Harmony Gold’s Elandsrand mine on October 4.—Sapa

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