Johannesburg - Monday marked the second year anniversary of the Lily Mine disaster where three miners were left trapped after the ground caved in as they were at work in Louieville, east of Barberton in Mpumalanga.
Since that fateful day on February 5, 2016, when Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyirenda were trapped underground when the container they were working in as a lamp-room was swallowed whole, there has been nothing but talk, especially from the Department of Mineral Resources.
Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who has been condemned for his inaction regarding the fate of the trapped miners and their families, opened the Mining Indaba in Cape Town on Monday. He was roundly condemned by industry players, many for the minister’s stance over the Mining Charter.
Asked for comment on the anniversary of the Mpumalanga mine disaster, Ayanda Shezi of DMR referred The Sunday Independent to the minister’s speech. In it the minister says: “Today also marks two years since the tragic accident took place at Lily mine. The inquiry into the accident has been concluded, and a report will be submitted to the department in the next few weeks.
“We would all agree that closure and finality is critical on this matter, especially for the families of Ms Yvonne Mnisi, Ms Pretty Nkambule and Mr Solomon Nyerende. We expect all stakeholders to ensure compliance with the laws of the land, as it is in all our best interests to have an orderly development of the industry.”
The attendees at the Mining Indaba are not alone in wishing to see the back of the minister; so too does the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) over the Lily Mine affair. NUM deputy president Joseph Montisetse says the union is at its wits’ end: “It is our hope that the State Capture allegations at the Vrede Dairy Farm would help push the minister out. He needs to make way for someone who can listen.”
Montisetse is of the opinion that Zwane’s departure is the only tonic needed to see progress at the mine, which remains closed - leaving the mineworkers and their families destitute.
Around this time last year, this newspaper reported that the families of the trio were due to be paid a lump sum of R200 000 and the survivors got their share of the promised windfall. None of the affected mineworkers or their families have seen this money.
It was Zwane who made this bold announcement only to somersault later and point a finger at business rescue practitioners Sturns as responsible for the payments.
Rob Devereaux of Sturns has always maintained that the payments could only be made once the mine finds new investors. So far none of the prospective investors have put any money where their mouths are - and there have been a few of these investors, including AfroCan, an Australian company.
The payout amounted to R4,3 million. On February 13, 2017 Zwane and Premier David Mabuza met with Lily Mine employees, among many fruitless meetings.
The objective of the meeting was to receive feedback from the mine management on progress made in securing funding that will enable the mine to compensate the affected families and mineworkers, as well as to develop a decline for retrieval of the container. Vantage Goldfields, the company that owns Lily, indicated they were in talks with possible investors who have shown interest.
The minister and the premier committed to engage neighbouring mining companies in an effort to negotiate that some Lily Mine and Barbrook employees be employed, noting that 10 job opportunities have already been secured.
The Mpumalanga provincial government also committed to provide food parcels to the affected families.
Zwane said government remains committed to working with the mine in retrieving the container as this will bring closure to the families.
He further committed to provide regular feedback on progress. Not a lot of these promises have been forthcoming.
Amcu, the majority union at the mine, is just as disillusioned. General secretary Jeff Mphahlele says “government does not show any interest in this thing”.
“Companies that promise to take over the mine do not come through eventually."
“What is happening here is unheard of,” says Mphahlele, who was at the mine on Monday.
“Misery is written on the faces of the people here.”
Mphahlele says they have spoken to President Jacob Zuma. He has yet to return to them.
Asked about the money promised, Mphahlele is left speechless.
According to the business rescue firm Sturns, the money needed to restart the mine was R200 million.
In a 5 July 2016 communique from the business rescue practitioner’s Rob Devereaux, he confirmed that this transaction “was effective 1 June 2016”. The “delays in transferring of funds” was dismissed as a minor bump in the road, he had said at the time.
As things stand, no one is saying anything about the money. The bodies of the three remain trapped. Their families are still without breadwinners - and going hungry.
Those like Duduzile Nyirenda, the mother of Solomon, find that their plight gets bleaker with each day that dawns and her son is not recovered - dead or alive.
In the meantime, Minister Zwane says he runs a tight ship.