Mine heads face jail

Kea' Modimoeng

Kea' Modimoeng

A new law which will hold mining chief executives criminally liable for any of their workers' deaths has been cheered by unions but slammed by the executives.

The new mine safety laws which enforce stricter penalties were approved by Parliament last week but must still be signed by President Kgalema Motlanthe before becoming effective.

Motlanthe has 10 days from last Friday to sign the laws.

The laws also make provision for mine accident investigations to be held within 10 days and a report completed within 30 days.

The legislation is what Chamber of Mines president Sipho Nkosi referred to earlier this month as an "imposition of a liability of a most oppressive nature".

He was speaking at the Chamber's 118th general meeting earlier this month at a time when the new laws were still a bill.

The laws make provision for heavier penalties to be levied against companies, increasing fines from R200000 to R1million.

"An extremely damaging consequence of these Draconian proposals - should they be implemented - is that the South African mining industry will lose the services of a considerable number of highly skilled managerial and supervisory employees," said Nkosi.

Nkosi said there is no escape from the reality that mining often takes place in a hostile and dangerous environment.

"This is particularly true in our country which has the world's deepest underground operations.

"Many will choose to export their skills to somewhere else in the world where they are not faced with the threat of imprisonment and inflationary fines for events over which they have no realistic control," Nkosi said.

Frans Baleni, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, said chief executives will be charged with industrial culpable homicide, but only if the chief executive or mine manager is found guilty of causing an unsafe working environment.

Lesiba Seshoka, National Union of Mineworkers spokesperson, said: "We are excited that we can now see a chief executive of a mine going to rot in jail for unsafe mining. We will definitely see an end to a monopoly over lives because, in the past, it used to work as if poor workers don't have rights to live. Now all those who used to force workers to work under dangerous conditions will face the music."