A third mineworker trapped underground after a seismic event at Harmony’s Kusasalethu mine near Carletonville on Friday morning has been brought to surface but, like the first two to be found, has died from his injuries. Rescue operations are continuing to find the two remaining missing workers.
The seismic event took place at a depth of 3,100 metres resulting in the suspension of all operations at the mine other than those related to the rescue effort.
Harmony CEO Peter Steenkamp commented, “we are deeply saddened by this tragic incident. Every effort was – and continues to be made – to get to all of our colleagues as quickly and safely as possible. Our sincere condolences go to the family and friends of the deceased.”
According to a Harmony statement released on Sunday, “mine management, the Department of Mineral Resources inspectorate and representatives of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) today inspected the area where five employees were trapped underground on Friday.
“The parties who participated in the inspection today noted that the challenging ground conditions have made rescue efforts particularly difficult.”
Mineral Resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane said in a statement released on Monday morning that, “we are concerned about the accidents we are seeing in the industry. As we head towards the last quarter of the year we are asking that employers and the workforce remain alert and continue to prioritise safety and, as the Regulator, we will be increasing inspections.”
This is the latest in a string of incidents which have hit Kusasalethu over the past few years during which operations have been badly affected by underground fires; illegal mining and illegal strike action.
Between 2007 and 2016 Harmony invested some R4bn into Kusasalethu with the aim of turning it around from a marginal operation into a world-class mine which would be a core asset for the group. The revitalised mine was forecast to produce an estimated 415,806 oz of gold annually after the turn-around project was completed in 2010.
But the project proved a failure with Kusasalethu producing only 124,198 oz in the year to end-June 2016. Steenkamp pulled the plug on the mine in August last year when he announced a decision to “high-grade” the operation and chop the remaining life-of-mine to five years from the previously estimated 24 years.
Kusasalethu suffered a 23 day strike in 2012 and was then shut down for several months at the beginning of 2013 after a major bust up between management and the unions which was ended only through the negotiation of a new code of conduct for workers.
During October 2014, the mine suffered three underground fires which were probably caused by illegal miners with the result that management shut the mine down for two weeks in November to clear out some 1,500 illegal miners from the underground workings.
In February 2015 the mine suffered yet another fire – which started during maintenance work on a bulk air cooler – but the 486 mineworkers who were underground at the time were safely brought to surface.
Labour relations on the mine have remained unsettled with illegal strikes occurring in January and April this year.