‘Send in the zama-zamas’

2016-10-02 06:02
Zama-zamas go down a disused mine shaft in Louisville near Barberton to retrieve the body of ‘Jamane’ Mkhabela. (Foto24)

Zama-zamas go down a disused mine shaft in Louisville near Barberton to retrieve the body of ‘Jamane’ Mkhabela. (Foto24)

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WATCH: Zama zamas trapped as Langlaagte rescue stalls

2016-09-12 15:11

Illegal miners were trapped underground on Monday after a rescue operation was halted.WATCH

Desperate Louisville community members in Mpumalanga have turned to illegal mine workers to retrieve the remains of three Lily Gold Mine workers trapped underground inside a metal container office since February.

It has been seven months since Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyerende plunged about 60m underground while inside the office when a sinkhole opened up at the mine near Barberton on February 5.

Lily Gold Mine’s management, Mine Rescue Services (MRS) and mine workers’ unions aborted a mission to find the container on Wednesday when it became clear that it was getting too dangerous to send a rescue team underground, as the mine was subsiding and there were cracks on the surface.

The community believed that illegal mine workers, or zama-zamas – who risk prospecting the disused gold mine shafts of Barberton – could be the solution. They were impressed when zama-zamas of the area went down the shaft of a disused gold mine on Friday last week and retrieved the decomposed body of their co-worker, a Mozambican known as “Jamane” Mkhabela.

They said they also saw how government’s rescuers failed to find trapped illegal mine workers at Langlaagte Gold Mine in Gauteng last month. Yet, the zama-zamas succeeded in retrieving the bodies of two of their three trapped colleagues.

A zama-zama who went down the shaft on Friday, who preferred not to be named, said: “I think it was [Mkhabela’s] time to die, because we found him in a seated position with a blanket covering his legs. He looked like someone who worked, got tired and decided to rest.

“We worked with him and when the community asked for help, I jumped in to help. We can also help at Lily Mine if government allows us to go down,” he said.

Community spokesperson Elphus Vilakazi said that the Lily and Langlaagte incidents showed that government could not assist in these situations.

“When we got the report that the illegal mine worker disappeared, we asked zama-zamas to help us and they found the body, and the next of kin of this man came from Mozambique to take him for burial.

“At Langlaagte, the trapped mine workers were found by zama-zamas. Here at Lily Mine, nothing has been done to retrieve the bodies of the three workers who were trapped while on legal duty.

“We are saying to mine management and the department of mineral resources, let’s exhaust all avenues to find the three workers,” he said.

According to MRS – a private sector company providing rescue and recovery services to mining companies – illegal mining was on the rise and was estimated to be worth R6 billion.

MRS CEO Christo de Klerk this week said that illegal mine workers who hailed from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Lesotho targeted gold, platinum, coal and manganese mines.

“They come here looking for jobs. They also find that there is a market for their minerals. They are now not only mining in disused mines … they are infiltrating operating mines,” De Klerk said.

Australian company Vantage Goldfields – which owns Lily Mine – applied for business rescue in March when the mine stopped production. Vantage Goldfields needs a R200 million bailout to drill a new shaft to retrieve the container office. Business rescuer Rob Devereux said he was still talking to prospective foreign investors after a deal with Canadian company AfroCan Resources Gold fell through.

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane’s spokesperson, Martin Madlala, did not respond to written questions on whether the department would allow the illegal mine workers to set foot on to their territory to find the container.

Devereux dismissed any possibility that the zama-zamas could be allowed to search for the bodies.

“It’s totally irresponsible and ridiculous. How can we allow illegal people into the mine? People make the mistake of thinking that the sinkhole is the size of a room … it is about 150m wide.

“To take all the rocks out to reach for the container could take 10 years,” Devereux said.

Devereux said the department of mineral resources and Lily Mine management knew more or less where the container was.

“It’s still very dangerous to go underground. The mine is subsiding and there are cracks all over. The new decline [shaft], which is sited 400m from the disturbed area, is still the correct plan to reach the container,” he said.

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Read more on:    lily mine  |  mbombela  |  zama zamas  |  mining

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