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HARARE  - Lily Mine in Barberton, Mpumalanga, is expected to return to production, Deputy Mineral Resources Minister Godfrey Oliphant said.

Oliphant also told the Bench Marks Foundation conference yesterday that the container where three mine workers have been trapped since February last year was likely to be retrieved by as early as January.

He said the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) had agreed to inject the cash needed in order to return the mine to production.

This was after attempts by the mine’s business rescue practitioner to attract investors fell through.

In August merger talks between Toronto-listed Galane Gold and Vantage Goldfields that were aimed at reviving production at Lily Mine collapsed at the last minute.

The failure of the talks was a major setback for Lily workers and the surrounding community, which depend on the mine for an income.

Another promise by Brian Barrett, the chief executive of Canadian gold-mining company AfroCan Resources, to take over the mine fell through amid allegations of fraud.

The collapse of the Galane transaction meant that creditors, including the workers, would have to wait before they received their outstanding money.

“The business rescue practitioner failed three or four times to get investors to fund the reopening of the mine,” Oliphant said. “We called him a month ago to say we will give you a last chance to raise the money.”

Oliphant blamed the shareholders for rejecting a proposal to approach the IDC for funds.

“The IDC was willing to provide funds to develop the shaft, but the mine managers rejected the funds as they sought more money. We are now back to square one again. We are back with IDC,” said Oliphant.

Vantage Gold Field went bankrupt after the collapse at Lily Mine. It was forced to close operations in both Lily Mine and Baabrook.

Lily employees Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyerende remain trapped in an underground container that collapsed in an accident last year.

Rob Devereux, from Sturns business rescue practitioners, yesterday said that the IDC had in fact agreed to inject R310million to revive the mine and retrieve the container.

Several jobs would be preserved at Lily Mine and Barbrook, with the R310m from IDC.

Devereux said that in fact Mineral Resources Minister, Mosebenzi Zwane had made a proposal in November to shareholders which was rejected.

“Zwane's proposal was for the IDC to invest all the money, meaning that shareholders would walk away with only R1.

"The shareholders had invested R900m in the mine and they made a counter proposal. Hence I could not move forward with the proposal,” he said.

He said his role would be to preserve jobs.

“I am not interested in shareholders, my role is to preserve jobs, open the mine (again) and pay creditors - in that order,” he said.