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President Jacob Zuma offered condolences to the families of six people who died when a tunnel platform collapsed at an Eskom construction site near Ladysmith on Thursday.
“We mourn with the families of all the workers who have lost their lives in this tragedy, while constructing a better life not just for themselves and their families, but also for the entire country. We share their loss and their pain,” he said in a statement.
“On behalf of government and the whole country, we wish to convey our deepest condolences to the families and fellow workers. May their souls rest in peace.”
Seven people were also injured in the incident at Eskom's Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme construction site, said acting spokesman Andrew Etzinger.
Three of the injured were in critical condition and four had already been discharged from hospital, he said.
Etzinger said the tunnel in which the men were working was not damaged, contrary to initial reports of a tunnel collapse.
The men were doing welding and grouting on a platform in one of four tunnels.
“For some reason, the platform came loose and rolled down the tunnel.”
He described the platform as “a moveable vehicle which broke loose and rolled back” down the tunnel, which has a 24-degree incline. He could not say how far the platform fell.
Etzinger said the people who died were contractors and not Eskom employees.
The Department of Mineral Resources said its KwaZulu-Natal principal inspector, along with other departmental inspectors, visited the construction site.
“The department has initiated a comprehensive investigation to determine the cause of the accident, in line with provisions in the Mine Health and Safety Act,” it said in a statement.
“The department would like to extend its condolences to the families of the deceased, and to wish all the injured a speedy recovery.”
Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba was saddened by the deaths, his ministry said in a statement.
“Minister Gigaba sends his sympathy and well wishes to the injured and calls on Eskom to leave no stone unturned to get to the cause of the incident and to ensure that any such possible accidents in future are averted,” it said.
KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu offered condolences to the families of the six.
“We hope they open their hearts and receive peace of mind in the knowledge that their kinsmen died in the line of duty.”
Mchunu commended Eskom for “for moving swiftly to assure the people of this province and the country that an investigation will be instituted”.
“We are praying to the Almighty God to protect those who are still missing. May God grant members of the police and rescue unit strength as they carry out the rescue operation”
The Congress of South African Trade Unions in KwaZulu-Natal said it was bitter and pained at the deaths.
“We extend our sincere condolences to the bereaved families at this darkest hour... May the souls of the departed rest in eternal peace.”
The storage scheme, which is under construction, is expected to go live next year.
It involves pumping water up the Drakensberg Mountains from the Braamhoek Dam to the Bedford Dam during off-peak hours, an elevation of about 470m.
Water will then be released through the tunnels to flow down during peak hours, generating electricity. - Sapa