Welkom - South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Friday said its members -- who were rescued after being trapped underground at Beatrix gold mine in the Free State -- should not be victimised for "disclosing the truth of the situation underground".
"Our members who have been...disclosing the truth of the situation underground and what they have been experiencing underground must not be harassed [or] victimised," Free State NUM regional chairperson, Tanki Malefane, said as he spoke to journalists about the union's demands from Beatrix mine after 955 workers were rescued from underground on Friday.
"We are demanding from management of Beatrix and the department of mineral resources to conduct a full investigation to establish the cause of what happened and come up with remedial measures to prevent the recurrence."
Earlier on Friday, Sibanye-Stillwater, the owner of the mine, confirmed that 955 workers were rescued unharmed at its Beatrix Shaft 3 in the early hours of the morning, after a power cut affected an elevator to bring them up following a severe storm on Wednesday night.
The company had already taken a decision to halt operations at the 2.2km depth mine until Monday to allow workers to recieve trauma counselling and recover fully.
Workers affiliated to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) on Friday, vowed not to return underground at Beatrix gold mine until safety issues were resolved and they get certain assurances from the mine and government.
Amcu President Joseph Mathunjwa said that the union wanted to check whether Sibanye-Stillwater was complying with all regulations at Beatrix.
"We have put the demands as Amcu that there must not be any worker that reports to work on Monday. Their families are traumatised as much as the breadwinners are traumatised. Therefore they need to be given ample time for trauma counselling," Mathunjwa told journalists at the mine following a marathon meeting with Sibanye-Stillwater management and government.
"We also requested this audit that the minister is taking about that they must do a full-scale audit at this mine. We demand new generators. If Sibanye can go and purchase a mine in the U.S. surely it can purchase new generators."
Mathunjwa said that the mine must have an emergency power supply for ventilation purposes in cases where workers are trapped underground, especially Beatrix mine because it's shallow and highly concentrated in methane gas.
Mathunjwa also confirmed that the union had demanded a R3 000 payment each for workers who were trapped underground as compensation and for counselling expenses.
Head of investor relations at Sibanye-Stillwater, James Wellsted, dismissed Amcu's R3 000 demand, saying that the mine was already providing workers with trauma counselling.
Meanwhile, South African Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane on Friday said that governement would not issue a Section 54 work stoppage certificate to Beatrix gold mine in the Free State where hundreds of workers were trapped underground for two nights.
Briefing the media after a three-hour meeting with mine management and trade unions, Zwane said that government would rather ensure that due process was followed in investigating the incident before allowing operations to resume and for workers to return underground.
"We have agreed with everybody in the meeting that we are going to follow due processes to ensure the safety of everybody and allow the mine to operate once we have followed those processes. I do not want to speculate on the cause of this incident as a responsible leader," Zwane said.
"We will be investigating issues of negligence, generator [faiIure], infrastructure and any other issue we deem fit. But until we have facts, we cannot issue a Section 54 because we know there was a storm in the area. We dont want to close these mines perpetually."
Zwane said the mine had taken a correct decision by not rescuing the workers through an alternative escape route because that route contained toxic gasses and "high methane levels".
Zwane also said that the mine would remain temporarily closed until an investigation by the mineral resources' inspectorate is complete, which might take up a day or up to four days.
African News Agency/ANA