Mining company ordered to pay for child’s fall

Mining company ordered to pay for child’s fall. Picture: File

Mining company ordered to pay for child’s fall. Picture: File

Published Nov 8, 2023



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A mining company is liable for the damages claimed by a mother after her son, who was nine at the time, suffered injuries when he fell into an open-cast mine at Ga-Malepe village in Limpopo while fetching cattle.

The mother, who cannot be identified as her child is a minor, turned to the high court in Polokwane, following the incident. She blamed the mine, which has ceased to operate, for the accident.

The child slipped and fell into one of the open pits which Refractory Minerals used to mine on. The mining operations stopped years ago as it had reached its lifespan.

Cattle from the area used a path to access water and people used the same path to fetch the cattle.

The mother said the mining company had a duty to restore and rehabilitate the mined area for sustainable use and that it had to ensure it did not pose a danger to residents who lived nearby.

The mining company defended the claim. It denied that the child had suffered the damages the mother alleged.

The child testified that in September 2017, when the incident had occurred, he and another child had been sent to look for the cattle at quarry six. On arrival at the quarry, they had seen the cattle at the bottom of the hole.

They had walked to where the cattle were and the boy had slipped, fallen and lost consciousness. When he had regained consciousness, he had found himself in hospital. His head had been injured.

The child testified that it had not been the first time he had gone to quarry six to look for cattle. He knew the area well. The path he used to go to the bottom of the pit was the shortest route as there was no another path.

When it was put to him that he had slipped because the place was not safe for people and cattle to walk there, he conceded to that. But the child stated that there was no other safe path that they could have used to go where the cattle were.

His mother testified that the hospital had told her her child had suffered a cracked skull.

She said that since the incident, the area had been fenced off and one was no longer able to access it. The area had not been fenced before her son’s fall.

During the hearing of the claim, the parties, including the lawyers, undertook an inspection in loco of the area, headed by Judge Maake Kganyago.

The mining company called a health and safety officer to testify. She said the company had a community liaison officer who was the link between the mine and the community. The mine premises had been fenced and members of the community were not allowed to enter the premises unless they got permission after following certain procedures.

The mine said its operations in the area had stopped in 2010. A big trench had been erected and a fence installed to prevent people and animals accessing the disused mine. It said signs had been in place to warn residents. Security guards had patrolled daily.

The mine argued that members of the community had removed the fences around the mine.

Judge Kganyago said two children had been able to access a dangerous place unattended that day.

“If security guards were patrolling the area, how did the two minor children and the cattle that they went to fetch … enter the pit, which is a dangerous area, unnoticed,” he questioned.

Judge Kganyago said the cattle had been at the deep end of the pit for some time, and if there had been security guards patrolling the area on the day in question, they would have noticed the cattle.

“For the mere fact that the defendant was aware that quarry six was a dangerous area to be, it was left for two years without fence or taking other measures to make the area safe despite knowing that the area was frequented by members of the community and their livestock amounts to an unlawful act of omission.”

The judge concluded that the mining company was liable to pay the mother the damages which she could prove she had suffered. If a settlement was not reached in that regard, the court would later determine the amount payable.

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