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Lilly Mine disaster: A push for prosecution and re-opening of ops after inquest

File photo taken in 2015. Scenes from a video provided by the mine showing the extend of the damage at Vantage Goldfields' Lily Mine in Barberton. Picture: Screengabs Vantage Goldfields Mine

File photo taken in 2015. Scenes from a video provided by the mine showing the extend of the damage at Vantage Goldfields' Lily Mine in Barberton. Picture: Screengabs Vantage Goldfields Mine

Published Oct 25, 2023


ActionSA will pursue the prosecution of the Department of Minerals and Energy (DMRE) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) for failure to stem illegal mining in Ehlanzeni, litigate for compensation, and seek enforcement of a Constitutional Court ruling paving the way for the re-opening of the Lily Mine after a disaster that killed three mineworkers in 2016.

The bodies of the deceased - Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyirenda - remain trapped underground after a shipping container they were working in collapsed and fell into a sinkhole at the mine on February 5, 2016.

A two-year inquest into the incident found last week laid blame for the deaths on the owners of the mine for failing to put safety measures in place. The Mbombela Magistrate's Court also ruled that the failure of government and bodies such as the Department of Minerals and Energy and the SAPS, to combat illegal mining had contributed to the deaths of the three miners.

After signing the power of attorney papers to take up further legal action against those found responsible for the disaster on behalf of families of the deceased, Herman Mashaba, the president of ActionSA, said yesterday that the party – which had spent as much as R3 million in legal fees pursuing issues related to the mine disaster – will focus on litigating for compensation and re-opening of the mines.

“ActionSA will now use the Power of Attorney to launch civil action to ensure that the families of the three miners are fairly compensated for the impact the tragedy has had on them for more than seven years (and) write to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for the plans to pursue prosecution instituting any against those the courts have found liable for the tragedy,” Mashaba said.

Should the NPA fail to institute charges against the SAPS and the DMRE, ActionSA will, he said, “possibly launch our own private prosecution” into the matter.

These actions, added ActionSA, will ensure that the bodies are retrieved and also ensure that the families are fairly “compensated for the impact the tragedy had” on them and the community.

The DMRE said that it had noted the judgment handed down by the Mbombela Magistrates Court. “The Department is currently studying the judgment and will respond once it has considered the findings,” it said in a statement.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Mpumalanga Chapter, said it was shocked that the Lily Mine managers “were also found guilty of ignoring warnings” presented by a geologist.

“Cosatu has repeatedly called for the adherence of statutory health and safety standards in all workplaces and further pleaded for law enforcement to prevail in eradicating criminal elements and illicit crime syndicates in mines to ensure stability and safety for all,” it said.

Cosatu implored the NPA to institute “proper criminal investigations” as instructed by the court to prosecute those accountable.

“A long-lasting solution is also needed to address illicit mining and compliance to health and safety regulations,” said the union federation

The South African Constitutional Court has also ruled that an amended Business Rescue Plan for the mine be voted for within 14 days of the October 17 ruling. The plan stipulates that mining operations at Lily Mine resume, and a new shaft be dug to help retrieve the three miners’ bodies.

The Constitutional Court refused to grant Vantage Goldfields – which owns the mine – leave to appeal a ruling which determined that the adopted Business Rescue Plan and amendments should be submitted to creditors for a decision.

The Department of Minerals and Energy said it welcomed the decision by the Concourt, and described it as a “major victory for the families of Lily Mine workers”, and ending “protracted litigation which delayed the reopening” of the mine.

The litigation concerned a dispute between Arqomanzi and Vantage Goldfields on the acquisition of the Lily and Barbrook Mines under business rescue proceedings.

At the centre of the dispute was the business rescue practitioner’s opposition to Arqomanzi’s offer to acquire the mine as they favoured an offer by Macquarie.

“After three years and R3 million in legal fees at long last the Concourt has brought the matter to finality. They have tried everything possible to be in contempt but they have now come to the end of the road,” Mashaba told the families of the deceased Lily Mine workers.