JOHANNESBURG – Sibanye-Stillwater said on Friday all workers trapped at its Beatrix mine had been successfully rescued and it expected to resume operations next week, but a labour union demanded it stay shut pending a probe.
Rescuers on Friday saved more than 950 miners who had been trapped underground at the mine in Free State province since Wednesday night when a power outage shut down their elevator. No fatalities were reported.
In a statement, Sibanye-Stillwater said a “a tremendous effort” to install temporary power line pylons by both mine management and power utility Eskom had seen electricity successfully restored early on Friday and all employees were safely hoisted to surface.
“Employees will undergo throughout medical examination and trauma counselling, together with their families, if required,” it said.
“It is expected that operations will resume on Monday 5 February 2018.”
This move could however set the mine on a collision course with labour unions, with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa demanding on Friday that Beatrix mine remain shut until workers’ safety could be guaranteed.
Numsa said the incident was the latest proof that the mining industry “has no interest in improving safety conditions underground”.
“They pursue profits before the well being and safety of workers. Beatrix Mine should remain shut pending a full investigation,” the union said in a statement.
Parliament’s portfolio committee on mineral resources also said it was outraged that the mine did not have an adequate backup plan for a power outage.
“Although appreciating the reality that a storm is a course of nature, the committee strongly believe that a caring management, that values the lives of its workers, should have anticipated the possibility of power outage,” it said.
“It is utterly unacceptable that an underground mine whose operation takes place under the light of a bulb could attribute its failure to bringing workers on the surface to power outage. This goes to demonstrate the attitude of management towards safety.”
The committee urged the department of mineral resources to “act swiftly and take drastic actions to such acts of carelessness”.
The Beatrix incident is likely to bring mine safety back to the fore when the mining industry holds its annual “indaba” next week.
Rescuers on Friday saved all miners who were trapped underground at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Beatrix gold mine in South Africa’s Free State province since Wednesday night when a power outage shut down their elevator to the surface. No fatalities were reported and eyewitnesses report that the number of miners trapped and then rescued is 952.
The workers were taken from the mine in busloads to the change house where they will receive medical attention and trauma counselling. The miners got trapped after a severe storm that damaged power lines.
Speaking outside the gates to Beatrix Shaft 1 at around 4.30 am (SA time) a visibly relieved James Wellsted, Sibanye-Stillwater investor relations manager, said: “Right now we have rescued the first batch of workers and they have been taken to the change house where we will give them trauma counselling, health check-ups and more food if they are still hungry… We are very happy that the power has been restored. More groups of workers will keep on coming up to the surface and we think we would have rescued all of them in about an hour. We have not received any reports of injuries or fatalities from our rescue teams.”
Workers coming for duty and concerned community members who had camped outside the mine were relieved when they heard the rescue operations had began.
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was expected to visit Beatrix mine later on Friday, where he would receive a briefing from the mine and the department’s inspectors who are on site.
Unions representing the affected miners earlier on Thursday criticised Sibanye-Stillwater for not working fast enough to rescue the trapped workers.
– African News Agency (ANA),