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

It was May 15 1998. I was doing my rounds underground in the afternoon, 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. 

I thought no one knew I was still underground — 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 have 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 else 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 Edna Molewa, the minister of mines 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. Later that year she replied 

and told me that I should contact the chief executive of the mine about the matter.  I want to expose the mines. It’s been 20 years but all the evidence is in the documents.  This is all I have — the proof to get what’s due to me. 

— Pitsi Banana Elias, as told to Mosibudi Ratlebjane

Mosibudi Ratlebjane

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