Shabangu to visit Harmony mine after workers’ deaths

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu will visit Harmony Gold's stricken Doornkop mine on Thursday, where eight workers died after a rock fall and fire took place below ground on Tuesday evening. 

In Cape Town, as crowds at the 2014 Mining Indaba began thinning out on Thursday, Mining Indaba Jonathan Moore, managing director, extended condolences to the miners' families and the company.

"We're deeply saddened to hear the news that the bodies of the eight mines trapped underground after a rock fall at Harmony's [Doornkop] mine were recovered during the night," said Moore in his morning opening address. "Our heartfelt condolences goes to the family and friends of the miners as well as to Graham Briggs, chief executive of Harmony, management and all employees at Harmony". His remarks were followed by a minute's silence.

Mine management was briefing Shabangu on the accident on Thursday morning, her spokesperson Ayanda Shezi confirmed.

Finding ninth miner a priority
The search for the ninth person is still ongoing and remains a priority, said Harmony spokesperson Charmane Russell. A regulatory investigation, held by the department of mineral resources, with assistance of the company and the unions will get under way.

"The company is committed to working with [all parties] to uncover the issues," she said. The families of the miners have been contacted, she added, and arrangements were under way to bring them to the mine if they wished to be there.

It is understood at this stage that a 2.4 magnitude seismic event took place, triggering a groundfall. This then hit a high voltage cable, which sparked the fire. "The investigation will reveal further details," said Russell.

According to an earlier statement, the fire was reported about 1 733m underground, around 6pm on Tuesday. Early morning on Wednesday rescue workers located eight other employees in an underground refuge chamber. They were brought to surface, unharmed, by 11am.

'Bad news'
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was saddened by the deaths of the eight miners. "[This is] really bad news for us as the NUM, the families of the deceased, the department of mineral resources and the South African public," acting spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said in a statement.

NUM health and safety secretary Erick Gcilitshana said: "We pass our deepest condolences to the families of the deceased. One death is one death too many." The union called on the mineral resources department to trigger its investigation into the accident, saying the NUM was ready to help.

Eighteen people were reported missing at the end of the shift on Tuesday night. The mining company said the eight miners brought to the surface from the mine earlier on Wednesday were all unharmed.

Rescue teams
One miner came out in the early hours of Wednesday morning. He gave rescue workers the location of miners he had seen underground. The nine would be under medical observation for 24 hours, chief operating officer Tom Smith said.

Smith said 10 rescue teams had been searching for the missing miners. The department of mineral resources said on Wednesday that a team of health and safety inspectors were monitoring the mine.

The chief mine inspector said that once the last miner had been found, the search and rescue team would need to make sure the fire had been extinguished, the department said on Thursday. After that, an on-the-spot inspection would take place, the results of which would help determine which steps the department needed take next. Harmony Gold was due to issue a statement later on Thursday. – Additional reporting by Reuters, Sapa

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Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.

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