File image: Reuters

Arson is a suspected cause of the two fires that ravaged Sibanye Gold operations recently. According to the Financial Mail, the fires at both mines broke out after workers went on strike.

“It’s difficult to say what is the cause of the fire,” John Wellsted, Sibanye Gold’s spokesman, said on Friday.

“Arson is a possibility because of the tension as a result of union rivalry, or it could [be] someone who was disgruntled with a supervisor.”

Fires broke out at the Beatrix West section of the Beatrix mine near Welkom in February and the Ya Rona shaft in the Kloof-Driefontein Complex (KDC) near Carletonville in July last year. The fire at KDC resulted in five fatalities and 14 employees were injured. At the time of the KDC fire, the mine was owned by Gold Fields.

Sibanye was established after Gold Fields hived off its marginal South African assets, Beatrix and KDC, in December last year. Gold Fields retained the South Deep mine southwest of Johannesburg as its only South African asset.

National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka denied the involvement of workers in the fire.

“Who said workers are the only people who behave criminally?” he asked.

The fire at Beatrix West has affected 2 700m2 of the shaft since it started on February 19. The cause of the fire is still unknown and an investigation into its causes has been impossible as the area will be inaccessible until at least the end of next year.

The fire at Beatrix West continued to burn as the hanging wall was supported by timber, which was under pressure from overhead rock and could easily burn, Wellsted noted.

“The fire has not been extinguished because the walls of the mine are supported by timber packs. The wood is dry and brittle and catches fire easily,” he explained.

Sibanye has previously warned that because of the fire, Beatrix West would lose 1 029 ounces of production a month, equating to a loss of about R28 million in revenue a month.

Beatrix suffered a R93m operating loss last year.

Wellsted rejected claims the company had set the shaft alight because it was unprofitable. With Financial Mail