30-hour ordeal of dark fear

Penwell Dlamini

Penwell Dlamini

It was a harrowing 30 hours of hunger, thirst and fear in the dark as Siphokazi Cingo hoped and waited to be rescued from the bottom of a 2000m-deep mine.

Cingo was one of the 3200 miners who were trapped inside Harmony Gold's Elandsrand mine near Carletonville, in the West Rand, on Tuesday.

Present during the rescue operation yesterday were Buyelwa Sonjica, the minister of minerals and energy, and the mine's chairman, Patrice Motsepe.

The miners found themselves trapped more than 2km underground after a falling pipe damaged their elevator on Tuesday night, causing a power failure in the mine. Most of them looked tired as they were lifted up, but some were smiling as they were welcomed by colleagues, families and emergency personnel.

Elandsrand mine will now be shut down for about six weeks, the Minerals and Energy Department said yesterday.

Spokesman for the department, Bontle Mafuna, said the minister had said that the mine would be closed for a period of between three and six weeks.

Cingo, 25, has worked for the mine for four years, and this was her first near-death experience.

"The place was dark and we survived on very little water to conserve it," said Cingo coughing slightly while holding a sandwich in her hand.

"I only thought about my daughter, who turned one last month, and prayed for my life," a relieved Cingo said.

Stan Bierschen, the mine's general manager, said: "The miners were rescued through a shaft used for rocks and ventilation. This was the only exit at our disposal."

It was only at midday, after more than 1000 miners had been rescued unharmed, that the first stretcher was hoisted to the surface, put in an ambulance and swiftly driven away.

"We need to put more effort into monitoring the safety of our mines. We will tighten regulations to achieve this," said Sonjica.

"The mine will be shut down for three to six weeks to investigate the cause of the accident and repair damaged areas and equipment," said Motsepe.