Mbombela - Without the bodies of their loved ones, the families of the three victims of the Lily Mine disaster will not find closure, the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) said on Sunday.
Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyirenda were last year trapped in a container swallowed by tons of rock and soil when a supporting pillar underground collapsed.
Fin24 reported that the department had completed its investigation into the incident and it has now been converted into an inquiry in terms of the Mine Health and Safety Act, set to commence in the next few days, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has said.
"The delay in instituting an independent probe to get to the bottom of the incident is raising suspicion that the Department of Mineral Resources might be implicated and could thus be involved in a cover-up," spokesperson Jabu Mahlangu said in a statement.
Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the disaster.
Mnisi, Nkambule and Nyirenda were working in a lamp room, housed in a shipping container on the surface of the coal mine, when the ground gave way.
Liable for payment
Seventy miners were rescued via a ventilation shaft. Rescuers tried repeatedly to get to the three, trapped about 60m underground, but had to withdraw as more ground collapsed.
The search was suspended indefinitely when the mine’s Australian owners, Vantage Goldfields, said they needed R200m to continue the rescue mission and resume operations.
The mine was placed under business rescue. Subsequently, the company’s nearby Barbrook mine was also placed under business rescue as it had to bear the costs of closing the Lily Mine.
According to Fin24, Zwane was adamant that the holding company and its business rescue practitioner remain liable for the payment of R200 000 to the three families, as well as R50 000 each to the survivors.
Mahlangu said Zwane’s department had a responsibility to ensure that this is realised.
"Decisive action will quell growing perception that the ministry is protecting the interests of big business at the expense of mining communities and miners, some of who could be without jobs following the tragic incident which has robbed them of their livelihoods," he said.
The delay was "setting bad precedence that might hamper sustainable mining and maintenance of a culture of zero harm in the mining sector", Mahlangu added.