20 deaths so far in 2018: the Sibanye-Stillwater blame game

Johannesburg - Families, colleagues, trade union members and government officials held a memorial service on Wednesday for the five deceased Sibanye-Stillwater miners close to the Kloof Ikamva shaft near Westonaria, the scene of their deaths last week.

The death toll at Sibanye-Stillwater’s operations this year alone stands at 20, close to half of the fatalities in the entire mining industry.

Sibanye-Stillwater [JSE:SGL] is the largest gold mine employer in South Africa and its operations south-west of Johannesburg include some of the deepest shafts in the world.

The shaft where the five miners are believed to have succumbed to heat and exhaustion remains closed for now, pending an audit of all working areas and a decision that they are safe.

The mine will also hold a day of safety on Thursday. 

News24 reported that the five workers entered an area that was not being used for mining. The temperature was above 50 degrees Celsius as it was not being cooled with air pumps.

Parts of the mine that are considered unsafe were supposed to be cordoned off.

With an official investigation underway, Fin24 outlines the reactions so far to the deaths of the five miners.  


In the immediate aftermath of news of the deaths of five miners, Sibanye-Stillwater’s James Wellstead inspired an backlash when he seemingly blamed workers for the spike in deaths at the company and claimed that people were “taking risks and not following safety procedures,” according to the Bloomberg.

Criticised by trade unions and MPs in the mineral resources oversight committee, the company has softened its stance.

In a statement on Tuesday, CEO Neal Froneman said the company was “appalleld” by the loss of life.

“While we cannot rectify the harm that has occurred, we will continue to support the families as best we can in their grief.  The safety of employees is our primary concern and, if it is not safe to operate, we expect conditions to be fixed before work can resume at a working place,” said Froneman.

He added that the recent spate of deaths was “unparalled” in the firm’s history.

“We cannot accept that lives are lost in extracting minerals from the earth, and we will leave no stone unturned in restoring a safety performance that meets our expectations,” Froneman promised

Trade Unions

According to trade unions, Froneman is the reason for Sibanye-Stillwater’s dismal safety record, with the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (Amcu) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) accusing him of arrogance.

The NUM has asked for the Department of Mineral Resources to suspend Sibanye-Stillwater’s license, with its spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu blaming Froneman’s “holier-than-though attitude”.

AMCU, meanwhile, has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene and wants to see the Health and Safety Act amended to give more power to miners and trade unions to address safety issues.

Mineral Resources Committee

MPs visited Sibanye-Stillwater on Tuesday to hold discussions with the management, trade unions and the officials from the Department of Mineral Resources.

Mineral Resources Committee chairperson Sahlulele Luzipo told Fin24 “the way things are now, Sibanye [is] becoming a threat to the right to life".

The four unions at Sibanye-Stillwater - NUM, AMCU, Solidarity and the Uasa union - will work on crafting a consolidated report of the reasons they believe are behind the fatalities. They will present it to the oversight committee on July 19, without management present.

Luzipo also expressed concern about the “attitude of management” saying they need to find a system which ensures owners and shareholders are held accountable for the loss of life, not just operational executives.

Department of Mineral Resources

After a press briefing on Sunday where he unveiled the revised Mining Charter, Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe tweeted “it cannot be business as usual” with regard how the department - as the regulator of the mining industry - responds to the spate of fatalities.

"It’s not about rocks, it’s about people…if you ignore human beings, you’ll have no mining,” Mantashe warned.

He promised to provide updates once the investigation has been completed. Spokesperson for the department Ayanda Shezi confirmed on Tuesday that the probe was still underway.

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