Elandsrand accident highlights working conditions in South African mines

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

Harmony Gold announced that it would close down its Elandsrand mine in Carltonville for three to six weeks after an accident on Wednesday in which more than 3000 mineworkers were trapped underground.

The mine, which has 6,9million proven reserves, could lose up to 5000 ounces of gold production while Department of Minerals and Energy officials investigate the incident.

Safety issues in local mines will be under the spotlight today at the Mine Health and Safety Council summit.

The summit, which aims to review the state of health and safety at mines, will be running under the theme "working towards zero".

However, with gold producers digging ever deeper to offset lower production, mine workers are facing higher risks than ever before. According to Department of Minerals statistics, local mines have claimed the lives of between 16 and 20 workers each month this year.

"It all depends on the company," said Paterson and Cooke mining consultant Andrew Vietti. "Some companies put more safety measures in place than others. Gold mining is a hard business and there needs to be a higher emphasis on safety monitoring."

AngloGold, which has also been dogged by safety issues, was asked by the department to close down its Moab Khotsong mine in July this year after an accident killed two miners, but the closure notice was later withdrawn after an agreement to improve safety at the mine was reached.

Department chief directorate of mines Thabo Gazi, who was holding a brief session with Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica at the site of the accident, said it would be three months before any decision was made concerning the future of Elandsrand mine.

"We have a huge challenge in this country," Gazi said. "Gold mining is very labour intensive and more people are needed to extract ore. There is not enough training that goes into making people understand the control measures when an accident like this happens."

By lunch yesterday 2100 miners were safely pulled out, said Gazi.