Criminal charges cannot be a formula to deal with fatalities in mines, and the issue cannot be dealt with emotionally, or the industry will be crippled, Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe has said.
His remarks followed strong criticism from Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa, who had called for more punitive measures in response to mining fatalities.
Mantashe was speaking during a briefing in Pretoria
on Friday morning about mining health and safety statistics for the 2018
Among the statistics that the Department of Mineral Resources announced at the briefing was an overall decrease in fatalities across all mine categories from 2017 and 2018, with a particularly large increase in the platinum sector.
Chief inspector of mines at the department, David Msiza, announced 81 fatalities in 2018 compared to 90 in 2017.
He congratulated to the platinum sector for a "59% improvement in fatalities".
"Over the past 10 years and even 25 years, we agreed as a sector that there can be no improvement if we don’t work together. The measures introduced have allowed for a 90% improvement in the past 25 years," said Msiza.
Overall improvement – but nothing to celebrate
Msiza said the industry was reporting an overall improvement in terms of injuries and diseases, but said it was a matter of genuine concern that mines were still losing lives.
Solidarity secretary for occupational health and safety, Paul Maree, said it was a positive development that there were fewer fatalities, 81 deaths was nothing to celebrate.
Mathunjwa echoed these sentiments, calling for a harsh crackdown on mine management where deaths occurred.
"As AMCU there is nothing that we can admire or celebrate.
"If our workers are not being killed, they are being injured permanently. We must amend mining safety legislation to ensure that if any mining boss kills workers, they get arrested. Simple as that," said Mathunjwa.
In response, Mantashe said responding emotionally to mining fatalities would result in actions that would ultimately cripple the industry, at the expense of workers and the economy.
"I have seen my fair share of mining disasters. "They have given me an appreciation that mine fatalities should not be handled with emotions.
"If we handle them that way, the industry will be set alight. We must deal with fatalities, analyse the reports and act decisively," Mantashe said.
He said amending the Mine Health and Safety Act to allow mining bosses whose mining operations had fatalities sounded like just, but would be impractical.
"Criminal charges cannot be a formula to deal with fatalities.
"Where a manager is negligent there must be charges, but if there is an arrest every single time a person is injured or dies there will be no one left to run the industry," said Mantashe.
Mantashe said of the reported fatalities, 40 were in gold mining, warning the sub-sector that health and safety regulations must be adhered to, regardless of the financial state of the industry.