/ 1 July 2010

Mine deaths: Union points finger at illegal miners

Illegal miners may have ambushed a proto team working underground at Harmony’s Phakisa mine, leading to their deaths and injuries, trade union Uasa said on Wednesday.

“There are grounds to suspect that illegal miners may have started a fire on 66 Level, 2013m below surface late on Thursday night [June 24],” the United Association of South Africa (Uasa) said in a statement.

When the proto team members went to attend to the fire, a booby trap may have been triggered, setting off an explosion. Three workers, two of them Uasa members, were killed. A fourth, Jose Randall, died in hospital. A fifth team member was in a serious but stable condition.

Harmony’s spokesperson, Marian van der Walt, told the South African Press Association the company was still awaiting the outcome of an investigation into last week’s incident.

“We have no conclusive evidence as yet.”

Uasa, however, said explosive devices — similar to those made by illegal miners — had been discovered 900m from the scene of the blast.

“Uasa has campaigned against the dangers of illegal miners for a long time, but the time has now come to fight fire with fire,” Franz Stehring, divisional manager of Uasa’s mine workers’ sector, said.

“It is time that we replicate what has been done with illegal miners in the Barberton area.”

In Barberton a security firm had been appointed and “flushed” the area where illegal miners were active.

“Instead of charging them for trespassing, the illegals were charged with much more serious charges such as sabotage, aimed at removing them from the system.”

While the proto team workers at Phakisa were volunteer members of a highly trained, experienced corps of mine rescuers, ordinary workers were also exposed to the dangers of illegal miners underground.

“We can therefore no longer allow our members to be subjected to this type of unsafe working environment.”

Uasa has demand the Minerals Department and Harmony management act swiftly against illegal miners. — Sapa