Department of Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, Harmony Gold chairman Patrice Motsepe, unions reps and Kusasalethu executives. Picture: Siphelele Dludla/ANA

Johannesburg - Mineral resource minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, said on Friday that the Kusasalethu mine incident where five mineworkers lost their lives should be a "turning point" in the health and safety of the country's mining industry. 

"Kusasalethu mine deaths should be a turning point in mine safety in the country. We will begin to be tough in exercising our powers and regulatory issues like this," Zwane said. 

"I have told the inspectors to leave no stone unturned. We want to get to the bottom of all that has happened here. We must see what management has done to remedy the situation of health and safety."

Zwane was briefing the media following his meeting with Harmony Gold's management about the accident which occurred at the Kusasalethu mine near Carletonville on Friday last week. 

The bodies of the last two remaining mineworkers who were trapped underground were recovered on Thursday, nearly a week after the seismic incident. 

The seismic event occurred at about 3,100 metres below the surface at around 10.30am on Friday.

Specially trained mine rescue teams brought the first body to the surface on Saturday. Another body was retrieved on Sunday while the third was recovered on Monday.

Production at Harmony Gold's Kusasalethu mine has come to a halt until the Department of Mineral Resources' investigation is completed.

Harmony Gold's chairperson, Patrice Mostepe, said they took full responsibility for the incident.

"Workers lost their lives in our premises and we have to take the responsibility. The minister and I met the families and it's painful even to look them in the eye. Workers should not come to the mines to lose their lives. It's totally unacceptable. We are responsible," Motsepe said.

"We have to work and make sure our people do not lose their lives. Whatever comes out of the investigation, we will take responsibility."

Motsepe said the incident might signal the end of the deep-level mining era in South Africa, saying that as investors they were questioning themselves whether to exit the industry or stay put. 

"We have had to ask ourselves, as we own 15 percent of Harmony through African Rainbow Minerals, do we close these mines because it is unacceptable, or we walk out of the industry," Motsepe said. 

"I mean, this mine has got five years left and the people that lost their lives were more than three kilometres below the surface. This is deep-level mining. But the issue arose that if we leave it, it would be a betrayal of the obligation we have to provide jobs in this industry." 

The memorial service for the deceased mineworkers would be held on Monday at the Kusasalethu sports field.