Families of three mine workers — Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule, and Solomon Nyirenda — who were trapped and entombed underground for eight years, have gathered at Lily Mine in Barberton, Mpumalanga to mark the sombre anniversary.
The three mineworkers, two women and a man, became trapped underground on February 5 2016 when the container they were working in fell into a sinkhole created by a collapsed crown pillar, before being covered by huge rocks.
The container with the bodies of the trio has not been retrieved, and some of the miners’ relatives have for years been camped outside the Lily Mine premises, putting pressure on authorities to extract the three.
Opposition party, ActionSA led by Herman Mashaba, has been at the forefront of civil society groups and political formations calling on government to spare no effort in retrieving the container. Court challenges have also been launched to force authorities to extract the bodies of the three.
“In 2016 the government of the Republic of South Africa lied to these families that the container cannot really be retrieved. It took my efforts and our legal teams to expose their lies and their deceit. Eventually they accepted that. Without a doubt, we will find a solution,” Mashaba, who was at Lily Mine on Monday, morning told journalists.
“I told the families that I hope we are not going to have the ninth anniversary (without retrieving the container). I hope in February 2025, we are going to unveil the tombstones of the three family members.”
Mashaba said during the week, his party will be announcing further legal steps to put pressure on government to retrieve the bodies of the trapped miners.
“We are dealing with criminals who are prepared to cover up this matter. As far as they are concerned, they would wish that Lily Mine does not exist on the minds of South Africans. That is why I am proud to be a politician, to ensure that South Africans are woken up to the reality that their government doesn’t care about them, it cares about people outside our country,” said Mashaba.
Arriving at the site where the Lily Mine tragedy occurred 8 years ago.— Herman Mashaba (@HermanMashaba) February 5, 2024
It breaks my heart that so many years later, our cruel government has failed to bring justice to the families #JusticeForLilyMine pic.twitter.com/sesgi972GY
“Their interest is the international community, not us as South Africans. We live in a country where 80 are being murdered every single day – recorded reported cases.
“The three family members here — Yvonne, Pretty and Solomon, as far as this government is concerned, they don’t really matter. Eighty people are being murdered every single day … I want South Africans to know that Herman Mashaba is concerned, and cares. ActionSA members throughout the country, they care,” said the former mayor of Joburg.
Mashaba vowed that ultimately, his party would ensure that the container with the bodies of the three mineworkers is retrieved.
In February 2016, IOL reported that expert geological teams were working to re-assess the possibility of taking rescuers underground at the Vantage Goldfields’ Lily Mine where the three miners had been trapped.
At the time, the mine’s CEO Mike McChesney told reporters that a team of geological experts had advised against sending people underground to attempt to rescue the three trapped Lily Mine workers, due to the instability of the ground.
Last year, IOL reported that a two-year inquest into the incident laid blame for the deaths on the owners of the mine for failing to put safety measures in place. The Mbombela Magistrate's Court also ruled that the failure of government and bodies such as the Department of Minerals and Energy and the police, to combat illegal mining had contributed to the deaths of the three miners.
After signing the power of attorney papers to take up further legal action against those found responsible for the disaster on behalf of families of the deceased, Mashaba said his party — which had spent as much as R3 million in legal fees pursuing issues related to the mine disaster — would focus on litigating for compensation and re-opening of the mines.