Johannesburg - Tuesday marked the fourth anniversary of the Lily Mine disaster in which three workers were trapped underground after a tremor caused a container which they used as a lamp to disappear and bury them.
It was established immediately after the incident that the container should not have been placed that close to the mine shaft. Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyirenda remain unaccounted for.
Subsequent assurances from the then minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane and Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza - who have since been redeployed - were that the government remained committed to working with the mine in retrieving the container to bring closure to the families.
Beyond food parcels, none of what was promised has been delivered.
Retrieving the bodies is at the heart of the discontent in Louisvale, the small town outside Barberton where the mine is situated.
Lily Mine is owned by Vantage Goldfields (Pty) Limited, Makonjwaan Imperial Mining Company (Pty) Limited and Barbrook Mines (Pty) Limited.
National Union of Mineworkers president Joseph Montisetse said his organisation had investigated the possibility of retrieving the miners and the quote for the project was about R300million.
“And none of the people we have spoken to is willing to commit that kind of money.”
Montisetse said the union had stopped looking to the government for answers because both the current minister, Gwede Mantashe, and his predecessor, Zwane, had not been forthcoming with answers.
Montisetse said theirs was a race against time to locate the container and bring it to surface because it would be a crying shame for the 1994 government to also “have mining graves the same way as the apartheid government has”.
The ANC-led government should act with speed to help bring the bodies back for proper burials, Montisetse said.
“We think it wise to approach churches, both here and abroad to initiate a fundraising drive.”
He said all the prospective owners wanted to do was commence mining without taking on the responsibility of opening the shaft leading to the retrieval of the container.
To echo Montisetse’s statement, nowhere in the correspondence of the business rescue practitioners and affected parties is there any mention of bringing the container to the surface.
The joint business rescue practitioners, RC Devereux and D Terblanche, confirmed in their last report, dated January 20, that they had received only one offer from an interested party - Arqomanzi Proprietary Limited. Despite all that, the business rescue practitioners “are still of the opinion that there is a reasonable prospect to save the business”.
The nearby Barbrook and the Lily Mine remain under care and maintenance, the business rescue practitioners say.
It is expected that the creditors meeting, where the Restated and Amended Business Rescue Plans will be considered, will be held this month in Nelspruit. It will not include the return of the container to the surface.
On Tuesday, the Department of Mineral Resources said in a statement to mark the February 2016 disaster: “It is expected that the new owner, as part of efforts to reopen the mine, will prioritise the search for the three employees.
“Government is concerned about the prolonged business rescue process and legal challenges emanating from the process, which have delayed all efforts to retrieve the container.
“To this end, the Department is supporting a process wherein the concerned parties can settle out of court. Once this has been fully agreed upon and completed, the process of retrieving the container will be accelerated.
“The affected families will be kept informed of proceedings.”