4 September 2017

South Africa: 'Brave Kusasalethu Miners Died Like Warriors in Battle'

Photo: Supplied
Harmony Gold mine Kusasalethu in Carletonville.

The five miners from the Kusasalethu mine near Carletonville were on Monday remembered as brave warriors who died in battle.

The group died after they were trapped underground and parts of the structure caved in, burying them 3km below the surface.

A memorial ceremony was held at the mine for the five.

A large white tent was pitched on the sports ground near the hostels where families, friends, colleagues, and religious leaders were in attendance.

Also in attendance were Kusasalethu General Manager Donald Nokane, Harmony Gold CEO Peter Steenkamp, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), Harmony Gold Chairperson Patrice Motsepe and Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane.

Moss Setlhafuno, 38, Mohlomi Mokhele, 25, Motshewa Matuba, 37, Mohlabane Moganedi, 29, and Relebohile Mokemane, 34, died after a tremor, measuring 1.2 on the Richter scale, caused sections of the gold mine to collapse at about 10:30 on August 25.

'Bravery'

There were about 3 000 miners working at the time and all apart from the five were unharmed.

Matuba, Mokhele and Mokemane were stope team members while Moganedi and Setlhafuno were both rock drillers.

Setlhafuno's brother James Setlhafuno said the five men left their homes and never returned.

James said he was at a loss for words and needed answers from the mine.

"We ask ourselves why there was no escape route that will let them run, or where air can enter?" he said.

Despite this, he said the men will be remembered for their bravery, saying they died like warriors in battle.

Families

The families of the men wept softly throughout the proceedings.

One of the women broke down and was carried out of the tent.

A few minutes into the proceedings, the event was disrupted by AMCU members.

They tried to disrupt a few representatives from the unions from speaking.

The members were singing and dancing in a small group on the far side of the tent.

They were especially unhappy with representatives from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

After their leaders pleaded with them to be disciplined, NUM Health and Safety National Chairperson, Peter Bailey finally had the opportunity to speak.

Bailey said every mine worker who died had an average of 10 dependents. Bailey had urged mine workers to stand together despite their differences in unions.

"We come from one class and that is the working class, and if you are going to fight your fellow worker, you are going to die like flies in the mining industry," Bailey said.

'This needs to stop'

Bailey said greater importance must be placed on the lives of mine workers.

AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa received a warm reception when he took the stand.

Mathunjwa said the mining industry had been a death trap for miners for a very long time.

He said their hearts were filled with grief as they mourned the death of the mine workers.

"Today we speak of men and women as figures. This needs to stop, we need to ensure that all workers who go underground, come back alive," Mathunjwa said.

He had also urged the Department of Mineral Resources to extract the three bodies at Lily Mine. Lily Mine in Barberton was still investigating a collapse which saw three miners losing their lives after being trapped in a shaft in February 2016.

Harmony Gold Chairperson Patrice Motsepe said when mine workers enter the gates, they become the responsibility of the mine.

"As management, as the company, we take full responsibility, whatever the outcome. This country and the whole of the economy was built by the sacrifices of mine workers."

'Horrible and unacceptable'

Motsepe said one of the hardest things to do was to look the families of the deceased in the eyes.

He said that Kusasalethu was not a profitable mine, saying that the money and profits of the mines were not more important than the lives of people.

"If mines are unsafe, workers need to be redeployed to different mines. If any of our mines results in death, we will have to close them."

Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane, who was the last speaker, described the death of mine workers as "horrible and unacceptable".

Zwane told Motsepe that mine workers should be paid more.

"Stop what you are doing at Sundowns and do it here. Mine workers should be paid decent salaries," Zwane said.

He said communities around the mine still live in poverty.

The memorial services closed with the families receiving the picture frames of their loved ones.

Source: News24

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