The families of the three mineworkers who died during the tragic collapse of Lily Mine in Barberton, Mpumalanga, have agreed to hand over the power of attorney to allow ActionSA president Herman Mashaba to sue the state and the mine owners.
On Tuesday, relatives representing Solomon Nyirenda, Pretty Nkambule, and Yvonne Mnisi signed the legal documents authorizing Mashaba to appoint attorneys who will pursue both civil and criminal litigation against those found at fault.
The signing ceremony took place at the entrance of the mine, where community members expressed anger at the treatment they received from the government and Vantage Goldfield.
“We will be signing these papers in private. Whether you like it or not, our children will be retrieved. You can do whatever you want to us, even kill us, but they will be retrieved. Some will be rushing to prevent us from signing these legal papers, claiming that we will lose the money that is due to our children. They can go to hell,” said Elmon Mnisi, Yvonne’s father.
Mnisi extended his gratitude to former mineworker and community activist Harry Mazibuko, who tracked down Mashaba and pestered him until he came to hear their story.
Recalling the tragic day, Mazibuko said he was happy that his efforts have finally borne fruit.
“Everything was normal when we went to work that morning on February 5, 2016. We went in with Pretty, Yvonne, and Solomon. Suddenly, the mine collapsed, but unfortunately, the three were trapped in a container that worked as a lamproom for the equipment we used for mining.
“Three years passed without any assistance from the government, the union, or the mining company. As a community, we made a decision to set aside our political affiliations and religions to take action towards righting the wrongs that unfolded here,” he said.
Mazibuko said he was called a sellout after reaching out to Mashaba.
“We had written letters to all relevant role players, but no one heeded our concerns. I informed Mashaba that there was an issue with a mine tragedy that left the community in distress. There was no response until I managed to get his contact number from a journalist.
“When I called him, he did not respond, but I kept calling him, even at night, until he answered the call. The next morning, we spoke, and he asked for my GPS location coordinates, and two weeks later, he was here under this tree. There was no ActionSA back then. He was a man who was touched,” Mazibuko said.
Last week’s judgments from different courts brought the matter to finality.
The Mbombela High Court first ordered the Australian company to step back and allow independent creditor Arqomanzi to buy Lily Mine and another one called Barbrook in order to allow the bodies to be retrieved.
Vantage Goldfields approached the Supreme Court of Appeal with the intention of overturning the Mbombela High Court judgment, but their application was dismissed.
The Constitutional Court put the matter to rest when it dismissed their last-ditch attempt to appeal the Supreme Court’s dismissal of their application.
Following an inquest, the Barberton Periodical Court sitting in Mbombela also declared the three workers deceased, stating that they died instantly when their container fell into a sinkhole.
This revelation brought relief to the families who always believed that their children spent days gasping for air in the doomed lamproom.
The court further found that unsafe excavations linked to illegal mining were responsible for the collapse of the mine.
However, Vantage Goldfield, the Department of Minerals and Energy, and the South African Police Service were also found to be negligent because they were aware of the illegal mining activities.
Mashaba said it was clear that money exchanged hands in how the government dealt with the case from the onset.
He said the mine owners became aware that retrieving the bodies would create grounds for prosecution, so they abandoned the project to protect their own skins.
“We spent R3 million in legal fees alone, just to stop the delays. It is clear that there were people protecting this mining company. They tried all the avenues and were always appealing. Now they can’t go anywhere; they can’t go to the United Nations; and they can’t go to God because God is on our side,” said Mashaba.
“For the last three years or so, we have been pursuing the prosecution of those who were responsible for the collapse of the container. No one can come up with excuses that they cannot prosecute because there are no bodies.”
Mashaba cast doubt on the commitment of the National Prosecuting Authority and the SAPS to urgently pursue prosecution. As a result, he asked the families to give his lawyers power of attorney so that they could institute criminal prosecution and civil claims.
“For as long as I’m alive, justice will happen to your family; even if I get hit by a truck, our lawyers are going to prepare the necessary papers. Our lawyers will institute civil claims with immediate effect. This is not our case; it’s a case for the Nkambule, Nyerende, and Mnisi families. Our lawyers will represent you at no cost to you,” he said.
Royal family representative Vusimuzi Dlamini disputed the court’s finding that there were illegal mining activities in the area.
He instead accused the mining company of exploring areas where they had no permit to do so.
“Before the mine was opened, they brought papers saying that we should sign for the opening mine in order to create jobs. They started with open-cast mining. This has nothing to do with illegal mining,” said Dlamini.
“They left the open cast and started digging somewhere. When you talk about zama-zamas, you are talking about the mine owners. They are the zama-zamas. When the police wanted entry, the security guards prevented them on instruction from the mine owners.”