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Welkom - Sibanye-Stillwater said late on Thursday it was working around the clock trying to restore power at its Beatrix gold mine in Welkom, Free State, where more than 900 mineworkers were trapped underground since Wednesday night. 

Around 950 miners were reported to be trapped as rescue operations continued following a storm which knocked out power to the mine's shafts. The mining elevators could not bring night shift workers up to the surface on Thursday morning. 

Sibanye-Stillwater spokesperson, James Wellsted, said the mine had been able to rescue more than 300 workers so far though many still remain underground.

"The whole incident happened because of a violent storm that damaged two Eskom power lines that supply parts of our mines. In the morning we were unable to bring our workers from underground to surface," Wellstead said while speaking to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation at the mine.

"But Eskom managed to restore power to one of the mines, to Number 4 shaft and we managed to get 272 people up from underground shaft. And at Number 1 shaft where the generators were working we got a further 64 people up. Unfortunately at Number 3 shaft we had some problems with hoists or winders and generators and trying to get the technology right. Eskom is still busy trying to restore power on their line."

Read more: Hundreds of Free State miners trapped underground after power outage

Wellstead said the best outcome would be Eskom restoring full power restored so the mine would be able to run a large hoist and bring more workers to the surface quicker. Instead the mine was using generators which prolonged the rescue operation.

He said that the mine was in contact with the trapped mineworkers and was providing them with food and water.

"We have teams which are the rescue teams underground and we have communication with the employees underground. Everybody has been accounted for, they are all safe, they are in a safe place and we are providing them with food and water. We also have our medical teams on site ready for them when they come up," Wellsted said.

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was expected to visit Beatrix mine on Friday where he would receive a briefing from the mine and the department's inspectors who are on site.

Unions representing the affected miners earlier on Thursday criticised Sibanye for not working fast enough to rescue the trapped workers.

"We call on Sibanye to speed up the rescue operation. We want to emphasise that well sell our labour, not our lives, lungs, and limbs so they must make sure all those workers underground are rescued alive," said Nation Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu.

"The NUM will leave no stone unturned during the investigation of this accident. We call upon the mining companies to invest more money in protecting the lives of workers than focusing more on profits."

Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa raised similar concerns, accusing Sibanye of not having a contingency plan in place to mitigate against incidents such as power failures.

"There must be an emergency power supply and ventilation for each and every shaft. In this instance, it is clear that these companies they don't take the lives of the black mineworkers seriously," Mathunjwa said. 

"AMCU is very much vocal about these companies not investing in prevention. It's clear that there is no money being budgeted for prevention hence there is no generator that is in working condition."

African News Agency/ANA