The Lily Mine community in Barberton, Mpumalanga, has called upon the national government to join their efforts to recover the shipping container that trapped three workers underground seven years ago.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed an application by Australian company Vantage Goldfields to challenge the Mbombela High Court ruling that independent creditor Arqomanzi acquires the mine, along with another one known as Barbrook.
Argomanzi intends on resuming operations at Lily Mine, with an offer to give miners back their jobs and to help retrieve the container that trapped lamproom workers Solomon Nyerende, Yvonne Mnisi and Pretty Nkambule in a sinkhole.
The workers were among 90 miners who were trapped when the tragedy happened on February 5, 2016. Eighty-seven workers were successfully rescued, while the three lamproom workers remained trapped 80m below ground.
Days after experts announced that the possibility of finding the workers alive was very slim due to a lack of oxygen underground, the rescue efforts turned into a retrieval mission.
Vantage Goldfields later stopped the retrieval mission following concerns that those hired to do the work would themselves become trapped.
Former Lily Mineworker and community activist, Harry Mazibuko, welcomed the Supreme Court of Appeal judgement and called for a way forward.
“It has been four years of courts, where unconcerned business people were arguing about rands and cents while the families of the trapped workers remain without closure.
“Our lawyers, through ActionSA, are writing official documents to ensure that a meeting is convened within a matter of weeks as per the court ruling. It has been too long, and the pain remains a reality. Every family wants to know what happened to their loved ones,” he said.
Mazibuko said a 2017 inquiry recommended the prosecution of those who were found negligent in the tragedy that took place.
“The inquiry recommended those prosecutions because the company had been warned two years before the tragedy. However, the National Prosecuting Authority could not do so without the container being recovered. They stated that they could pursue prosecution only if the families could declare their loved ones dead. “Unfortunately, this is against some cultural norms, as you can only declare people dead when you have found their bodies. Those delaying the entire matter are simply avoiding prosecution, forgetting that there are people who are directly affected by the tragedy that occurred on that day,” Mazibuko said.
“We are now saying the government must step in because laws were broken when the tragedy happened. It is no longer an issue of private business interests but legislation that deals with the safety of workers.”
ActionSA leader, Herman Mashaba, who has been helping the community challenge Vantage Goldfields, said the judgement was long-awaited.
“This matter was an appeal from the High Court, and the Supreme Court of Appeal was damning in its remarks when dismissing the appeal, stating that the appellants advanced no argument as to why the High Court was incorrect in granting its initial order,” Mashaba said.
“ActionSA has always maintained that re-establishment of the mining operations through which a new decline access could be developed would assist in the retrieval of the bodies of Ms Mnisi, Ms Nkambule and Mr Nyirenda. An entity called Arqomanzi is a creditor and is the only organisation to have proposed to retrieve the container as part of restarting the operations of the mine, by means of a Business Rescue Plan.”
Mashaba said the court action prevented a vote on how the business rescue should be approached.
“With this matter out of the way, the Business Rescue Plan can finally be voted on, and the Mnisi, Nkambule
and Nyirenda families will at long last be able to obtain the closure and peace for which they have waited for far too long.
“We, as ActionSA, continue to be at the side of the families through this
relentless battle. We will never give up the cause of justice. This Business Rescue Plan must be voted on by creditors with the utmost urgency, to ensure closure and dignity for the Lily Mine families,” said Mashaba.
“To this end, we have written to the business rescue practitioner to demand that the Business Rescue Plan be voted on within 25 days from the date of judgment. Should they fail to do so, ActionSA will not hesitate to approach the relevant Court for an order to compel them to do so.”
Attempts to obtain comment from Vantage Goldfields and Arqomanzi were unsuccessful.