Gupta employees prevent rescuers from finding trapped illegal miners

11 February 2019 - 10:19
By Iavan Pijoos
Gloria coal mine in Mpumalanga.
Image: THULANI MBELE Gloria coal mine in Mpumalanga.

Employees from the Gupta-owned Gloria Coal Mine in Mpumalanga have halted the search and rescue operation for the remaining trapped illegal miners.

"The rescue operation won't continue today [Monday]‚ because we have the employees who won't permit us to continue the operation until they are paid their salaries.

"They are not allowing us to do what we can do and how we can do it‚" business rescue representative for the mine Mike Elliot said on Monday morning.

Elliot said there was no money to pay the disgruntled employees.

"In business rescue we were generating money for the employees‚ they have been receiving their salaries all the way up to the end of October [2018]. Basically‚ the cash got used to pay Eskom and other creditors to keep the mine operations running.

"Eventually the bills far exceeded the amount of income. We just ran out of cash and there wasn't production to look after it. We got our legs cut out from underneath us‚" Elliot said.

The Gloria mine forms part of the Optimum Coal assets bought by the Gupta family in 2016. They were put into business rescue early in 2018.

Several illegal miners were trapped underground after a gas explosion last week Wednesday while stripping cables at the mine‚ which has been closed for several months.

Elliot said that they had received information from the community last week that at least 22 illegal miners were trapped underground.

"The community thought that there had been some sort of explosion. We went out and examined the main fans and we found that the blast doors‚ which protect the fans against an explosion‚ had been blown off‚" he said.

The bodies of five miners were recovered. A sixth miner was arrested after he was discharged from hospital. The man is expected to appear in court on Monday.

Elliot said the atmosphere in the mine was full of poisonous gasses‚ including carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

"We couldn't get to where the community told us that these people were. We can't reach it with our oxygen set‚ it's too far.

"We must re-establish power to the mine that the copper thieves cut‚ [because] they cut the overhead power lines and made them fall down."

Elliot said the alleged copper thieves had also stolen the Eskom supply cable.

Power to the main fans had to be restored to "suck out the bad air" to allow the rescue operation to continue.

It is unclear how many miners are still trapped underground.

- TMG Digital