NUM calls for tough mine safety law
Johannesburg – South Africa's largest union said on Wednesday the government should enact new legislation to compel mining companies to uphold higher safety standards and prevent avoidable mine accidents and deaths.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said the government should draw lessons from Chile's ongoing incident; in which miners were trapped underground for 69 days in a collapsed mine.
South Africa has a dire mining safety record compared with the industrialised world, partly because it has some of the deepest mines. Last year, 165 miners died in South African mines.
NUM president Senzeni Zokwana said most mining companies in South Africa were paying more attention to making big profits than to ensuring safety for their workers.
"For miners to die in a situation where we think it is preventable is a lack of will on the part of employers," Zokwana said.
"The capacity and the means (to maintain safety) are there, but for that to happen we need an instrument (law) from the government to ensure that mines conform to the safety requirements," Zokwana said.
South Africa is the world's largest platinum and ferrochrome producer and also the fourth-biggest gold producer.
Zokwana also said the mining industry and the government should focus on the starting date of a state mining company rather than continue to talk about the nationalisation of mines.
The ANC, at one of the party's biggest meetings in years last month, agreed to explore greater state control of the mining sector but made no shift in economic policy.
Zokwana said some of the people pushing for nationalisation of the mines had ulterior motives, after they failed to pay for stakes in existing mines that were awarded to them under the country's economic empowerment plans.
"Our fear is that the state is being used to (try and) bail out some people (through nationalisation)," he said, adding that mines are expensive to run and require special skills.
"We believe that we need a sober debate," Zokwana said.
Zokwana said a state company should focus on mining for coal and ensure the development of new industries to process platinum group metals.