Beatrix mine in Free State province. PHOTO: Timothy Bernard/ANA

WELKOM - South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), on Friday said this week's incident where more than 900 mineworkers were trapped underground exposed glaring shortcomings in the  emergency and rescue contingency plans of the Beatrix gold mine in the Free State. 

Rescuers on Friday saved all 955 miners who had been trapped underground at Sibanye-Stillwater's Beatrix gold mine since Wednesday night when a power outage shut down their elevator to the surface. 

A severe storm ripped through the town on Wednesday night, causing the collapse of both the primary and secondary Eskom power lines supplying electricity to the Beatrix Operations and at all its three shafts. As a result, the majority of the night shift was unable to be hoisted to surface. 

The company's back-up generators failed to kick in when power was cut, leaving it with no option but to borrow some from neighbouring Harmony Gold while Eskom worked on restoring power.

The roof of a meeting room at the Stillwater gold mine in Welkom was damaged by the same storm that led to a power outage that trapped 955 miners underground this week. PHOTO: Timothy Bernard/ ANA Pictures

Emergency power supply from backup generators enabled only 64 employees to return to surface at Beatrix 1 shaft and 272 employees at Beatrix 4 shaft on Thursday morning.

But damage to the winder control systems and generators at the Beatrix 3 shaft, resulting from the power surge, left 955 employees underground at the shaft stations until Eskom power was able to be restored to the mine.

Hendrik Schmidt, DA spokesperson on mineral resources, said that Sibanye-Stillwater must provide answers on why Shaft 4 did not have alternative escape routes and why the emergency evacuation system malfunctioned. forcing the company to borrow a generator from nearby Harmony Gold mine.

"The DA will therefore write to the Mining Health and Safety Inspectorate, which falls under the Department of Mineral Resources, requesting that it certifies Beatrix mine's emergency and contingency plans before mining operations can resume," Schmidt said.

"The safety of mineworkers must be made a priority by mining companies who must ensure that their emergency rescue systems are operational at all times to avoid loss of life."

Schmidt said it was essential that regular inspections by the Mining Health and Safety Inspectorate were conducted to ensure that mines remain compliant with mining legislation on emergency rescue and retrieval. 

- African News Agency (ANA)