Johannesburg - Family members of trapped Lily Mine workers remained hopeful, but were devastated at the news that there would be a two- to three-week delay in rescue operations.
Today marks the 13th day since three miners - Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyerende - were trapped after the lamp-room container in which they were working was swallowed up and buried when a section of the mine collapsed on February 5.
The mine announced yesterday that a new shaft had to be drilled as there was currently only one exit and entry point to the mine since the rock fall earlier this week.
Spokesman for the Barberton, Mpumalanga, mine, Coetzee Zietsman, said this morning: “At any given time, according to mining safety regulations, there have to be at least two entry/exit points and that is why we have had to suspend operations.”
A rig will be arriving from Witbank today to start drilling a shaft which will be 70m deep and wide enough for a person to go through.
“This will obviously take some time, but we are hoping to start drilling by Saturday and to be in full swing by Sunday,” he said.
The mine is hoping it will take two weeks, but Zietsman said it could take three.
He would not say whether there was any hope of finding the miners alive.
“We are continuing the operation as a rescue one,” he said.
December Mazibuko, the partner of Nkambule, said this morning: “I am not losing hope.”
Yesterday, the chairpersons of the portfolio committees on mineral resources, Sahlulele Luzipo, labour, Lumka Yengeni, and the select committee on land and mineral resources, Olefile Sefako, said they were encouraged by the “commitment” displayed by the Lily Mine management in doing all they could to find the three trapped workers.
The chairpersons were delegated by Parliament to visit Lily Mine on Tuesday to establish the circumstances around the collapse and to obtain a progress report on the rescue mission.
They met with the families of the trapped miners and conveyed messages of support.
Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa said this morning the union was supporting the decision to delay the rescue because of safety concerns for rescue workers.
Mathunjwa confirmed that there had to be two escape outlets.
Commenting on media reports that a safety officer at the mine had committed suicide, Zietsman said the man, who has not been named, had worked for one of the mine’s subcontractors, but had never worked at Lily Mine.