Death of third mineworker confirmed at Harmony’s Kusasalethu mine

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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.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I have said it before, and I will say it again. This mine is more trouble than it is worth, it will never make any money, is a bottomless pit as far as capital drainage is concerned and the employees are arrogant, ill disciplined and, in fact, criminal. Harmony should try to get rid of this albatross around it’s neck, which will be nigh impossible as no one else wants a low grade, criminal enterprise, or they should close it once and for all, cast a concrete slab to seal all the entrances and try to forget about this nightmare. Let these criminal employees explain to their families why they do not have food on the table anymore… Knowing how little these employees care about standards and discipline, I wonder if the (relatively) small seismic event was just coincidentally at roughly the same time or the actual cause of the fall of ground (FOG)….

    • David, apologies for having to do this but can you please remove my insensitive remarks above? I would really appreciate it very much. I have myself been in this situation in a previous life and I do not wish it on my worst enemy…

  2. Could you change the profile picture to one where Peter is not smiling. I don’t think anybody appreciate it under these circumstances

  3. Dear Gold Miner. Perhaps in different hands long term value can be extracted from this important South African asset (a lot of money has been invested into the mine over a period); potentially 25 years of profitable LOM in different hands compared to 5 years of high grading, which will surely be accompanied by reduced expenditure on infrastructure maintenance (neglect) and therefore long term value destruction of the asset. Better to dispose of it to different management hands now rather than after 5 years of high grading and infrastructure neglect; after five years it will be even more dangerous for future employees and more expensive to restart. It is a fact that somebody will go after it post the “five” years and then it will be like Blyvoor or the old President Steyn. Perhaps a professional somebody (and not fly by night get rich quick type of “entrepreneurs” ) with lower operating costs ( even lower than current owners) can profitably and responsibly mine at the average grade of the ore body and bring the full economic potential of the ore body to account.

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