More of a fuss is made over the deaths of rhinos or white workers than those of black workers, a Cosatu official claimed on Monday.
"We know if it was the rhinos killed there was going to be lot of noise made by some, or if it was the white workers," Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) Gauteng spokesman Dumisani Dakile said.
He was commenting about the deaths of five miners at Gold Fields' KDC West mine at the weekend. The company said a fire broke out in the Ya-Rona shaft in Merafong, near Carletonville, west of Johannesburg.
Fourteen miners were taken to hospital. By Sunday, three had been discharged.
The National Union of Mineworkers, a Cosatu affiliate, said the five died of asphyxiation and claimed that they had been working overtime loading mud, without available compressed air.
Comment could not be immediately obtained from the company on these claims.
Dakile said the government should take "drastic steps" against mines exposing workers to dangerous conditions.
Cosatu was planning an urgent meeting with the departments of labour, and mineral resources and energy, to discuss how to prevent such events in future. They also planned a national day of mourning.
Gold Fields' chief executive officer Nick Holland earlier described the deaths as shocking.
"We extend our deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathy to their families, friends and colleagues. We are in the process of contacting their next-of-kin and will do all in our power to assist them through this difficult time. We will thoroughly investigate the causes of this accident."
Executive vice president and head of Gold Fields' South Africa region Peter Turner said there had been 655 fatality-free working days (two years and nine months) at the shaft before Saturday's accident.
"This incident is highly regrettable in view of the significant safety improvements we've experienced on this mine."
The shaft, and the other 12 shafts on the KDC operation, had been closed and the company would co-operate in an investigation.
Comment was not immediately available from the mineral resources department.