Two KZN children drown in open mine clusters abandoned by mining company
Durban - THIS Christmas was not a merry one for the Vryheid family whose two girls drowned in the open cluster mines that were not rehabilitated by a coal mining company more than a year ago.
The girls drowned while swimming in one of the eight deep holes dug during a mining project that lasted about three months in KwaMnathi Village in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
The cousins Zanokuhle Ntshangase, 12, and Andiswa Masondo, 8, were sent to collect wood from the nearby forest and according to the other children who were with the at the time, the children decided after collecting the wood to go for a swim in the deep holes now filled with water due to the recent summer rainfall.
While swimming, they could no longer spot the cousins in the deep water.
Terrified about not finding them, the children left the search and decided to report what had happened to the girls’ family.
A search was launched by the local police and with the help of divers, the girls’ bodies were found on the same day, December 21.
The girls were buried on Saturday in a ceremony attended by their friends and pupils from the school they attended, Mbilana Primary School.
The girls’ aunt, Zodwa Madinana, said the family were still trying to come to terms with their loss.
"This was a shock not only to our family, but the whole village. We as a family were among many people in the community who were against this mining project. We feared for our safety and that of our children. We were against mining near a residential area, but our opinion was overpowered by those who wanted jobs out of the project.
“The mining only lasted for two months and in the third month, the project ended, leaving the open clusters behind.”
She said the community was scared to send children on errands since this incident, fearing a repeat.
“Soon schools will reopen, and children will be walking to school and when unsupervised, anything can happen. We want these open clusters closed and for the family to be compensated for our loss," said Madinana.
The incident confirmed community leader and ward 5 councillor Mdititi Ntombela's fears. Ntombela had since February written several letters to the government, including Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe, about the dangers posed by the open clusters in the community.
The Daily News is in possession of the letter in which Ntombela highlighted that livestock had fallen into the open clusters and that it also posed a danger to people.
He invited Mantashe to visit the village to witness the dangers posed by this mining project and appealed for Mantashe to intervene in saving lives of people and livestock.
However, he said, due to the spread of Covid-19 and the lockdown, Mantashe's visit was not possible.
Ntombela said Mantashe's office was alerted to the incident.
“The department donated a sum of R40 000 to assist the family with the burial expenses.”
He said the Department of Social Development had also donated food vouchers of R1 350 for each child. “We appreciate the support of both the departments.”
He said his attempts to have the open clusters rehabilitated and prevent the loss of human lives and livestock had not succeeded.
“Before this project could start, people had different views about this mining project and the fact that it was to happen close to a residential area. I was caught in between, because as a community leader, I had to choose between the safety of people in my community and provision of job opportunities. The community was divided in this issue. Some were not concerned about safety but were more interested in jobs, while others saw the project as a danger to the community.
"I supported those who were against the mine and I had a problem with the noise made by coal digging machines, which caused cracks on the houses, but the project happened anyway and only lasted about 3 months and the company left, leaving behind these huge open clusters, some as big as a dams,” said Ntombela.
The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy said it “ noted with sadness the unfortunate drownings” and would conduct an investigation into the incident in terms of the legal provisions.