‘I was alone underground, I’m still alone’

It was May 15 1998. I was a doing my rounds underground at 3.35pm, on level 16. When I heard the blast, I was alone. It must have been 25 metres from me. I don’t know. I tried to run away but I inhaled the gases and felt the smoke coming into my lungs as I fell to the ground.

No one would have known that I was still underground when the explosive went off. I was alone – or so I thought. But two of my colleagues were in a different tunnel and they helped me. They’re still the only people who help me, even now.

I should’ve been paid out because I was injured at work. Instead, the mine demoted me from a shop steward to a locomotive driver. But it was fine because the doctors said I should not work underground anymore.

But I know that someone must have known I was still down there that day. They did it on purpose – they wanted to remove me as a shop steward.

I sent letters to the presidency and the matter was referred to the minister at the time. I even paid a lawyer R38 000 to take my case to the CCMA [Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration], but he disappeared with my money.

I don’t have a cent, not even to take taxis.

I have all the proof and the evidence right here. I sent a letter to the public protector last year; she told me that I should contact the CEO of the mine about the matter.

I want to expose the mines. It’s been 20 years but all the evidence is here in these documents. This is all I have; the proof to get what’s due to me. – Pitsi Banana Elias, as told to Mosibudi Ratlebjane, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s social justice fellow at the Mail & Guardian

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