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September 2012


Moving the country’s mining industry to ‘zero harm’ was the aim of the annual MineSAFE conference that took place at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg at the beginning of August.

The conference was organized jointly by the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM), the association of mine managers of South Africa (AMMSA) and the South African Colliery Managers Association (ASCMA).

Encouraging by progress

In his opening address to conference delegates, David Msiza, Chief Inspector of mines, said that close to 75 000 mine workers have died and more than a million have been injured in the life-time of the mining industry in South Africa. “While the situation has improved over the years, this year already has been the death of 64 mine workers. We cannot afford to continue this loss of life and need a radical approach to the challenges to health and safety.”

Msiza singled out gold and platinum mines as the main contributors to fatalities and accidents. He noted that the main causes of accidents in 2012 had been mud rushes, exposure to gases, falls of ground and transportation accidents.

“The culture of poor compliance to legal provisions and mine standards remains a significant stumbling block to the achievement of zero harm. There is in general a lack of knowledge of safety standards,” said Msiza.

However he acknowledged that the tripartite stakeholders’ collaboration in the area of health and safety had been successfully in improving the safety record of the industry. “The DMR is encouraged by the visibility by mine leadership and their involvement in serious accident investigations. We are also encouraged by forums such as the Gold Fields and Exxaro forums.”

“2013 is a reporting year for the occupational health and safety milestones on silicosis, noise induced hearing loss, and fatalities and injuries. As such the high levels of deaths and injuries, as well as diseases remains of great concern.”

Cultural transformation

The Chamber of Mines has worked to assist mining companies with their health and safety commitments for the Mining Charter. The Chamber has collated the individual health and safety reports of its member companies into an industry Mining Charter report. The report was presented to the delegates at the conference by the chairman of the session, Sietse van der Woude, the safety and sustainable development adviser at the chamber and Dr Khanyile Baloyi, the chamber assistant health adviser.

“For health and safety to improve in the mining industry we need to understand the importance of workplace dynamics and their impact on health and safety,” said Baloyi

“It is a fact that the majority of people working and dying in our mines are black. The majority who manage the mines are white. This undermines the good intentions of government and some mining companies. There are accusations that some companies do not care about mine workers. I do not necessarily agree, but it says something about lack of transformation in the workplace.”

Age, culture and ideological consciousness all make it difficult to navigate transformation. “Transformation must be built into the workplace. As long as there is suspicion between the groups in the workplace, it will be hard to achieve safety standards.”

The Culture Transformation Framework was signed on 18 November 2011. It comprises five pillars, one of which is leadership. “Leadership is required to focus on change and safety at all times. Culture is very difficult to change and therefore it needs inspiring leadership. Change like this can only be incremental and consistent if the message that needs to be delivered is consistent. This is the journey our industry has to achieve. It must be through the hearts of people,” Van der Woude explained.

“Our challenge is to ensure that we have an industry whose culture practices reflect the society we wish for, for our children... we have little reason to celebrate, we will not stop and will continue to try”.

Health issues

Navin Singh, acting chief executive of the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) reiterated the goal of ‘zero harm’. He believes that, “In the total fatalities for the sector, 80% are health related.”

He emphasized that the MHSC wants to be the focal point for all health and safety issues. “If you have an issue then we want you to turn to us. The Council advises the minister by reviewing and developing legislation, the promotion of health and safety, oversees research and liaises with other bodies related to health and safety.”


Lonmin has warned that the wildcat strike that has been ongoing for nearly a month at its Marikana mine near Rustenburg in the North West province is threatening 40 000 jobs. Mine management has indicated that the mine could not go on indefinitely without normalizing operations. Production was halted at the mine on 10 August 2012 by miners demanding that their pay be increased by 300% to R12 500.

At the time of going to press, with less than 5% of the workforce reporting for duty, government mediated talks had re-opened between mine management and the workers in an attempt to resolve the issues that led to the illegal strike that has left 34 miners dead.

The Marikana miner’s strike attracted international attention after a series of violent confrontations between the South African Police service and striking workers resulted in the deaths the 34 mine workers, as well as two police officers, four unidentified people and the injury of 78 others.

The shooting incident took place on 16 August and has been described as the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960.

After being arrested and charged with public violence – a charge that was later changed to murder – 270 miners were released from custody on 3 September. The murder charges against them have been provisionally withdrawn, but they still face other charges and have been warned not to participate in illegal gatherings and to refrain from carrying illegal weapons.

Speaking at the New Age business breakfast held at the Sandton Convention Centre on 3 September, minister of mineral resources, Susan Shabangu, said: “The unfortunate occurrence of the Marikana tragedy has added to the many historic ‘black spots’ in our country, especially in the mining industry.

“The Marikana issue should not be viewed in isolation to all other inadequacies of our beloved mining industry. Whilst we acknowledge the significance of the Marikana ordeal, it is apt for the industry to have a conversation about the underpinnings of such a problem, anticipate other potential challenges and recommend a concrete plan of action that will ensure responsible action from all stakeholders.

“We need to address the root cause of the problem with urgency. I support and welcome the Presidential Judicial Commission of Inquiry on Marikana.”

Two more wildcat strikes

Less than tree weeks after the shootings at Marikana, another wildcat strike was called at JSE-listed Gold One International’s Modder East site, leading to unrest that resulted in South African police firing teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the striking miners.

The gold mine, near Springs in Gauteng, dismissed workers in June after they embarked on an illegal strike. Several of the former employees returned on 4 September for a protest, which the company said had “strong political undertones.”

Four people were allegedly injures in the incident and arrests have been made.

In separate dispute, another illegal strike is underway at Gold Fields’ Kloof Driefontein Complex (KDC) East gold mine near Westonaria in gauteng, involving approximately 12 000 employees. The strike began with the night shift on 29 August.

At the time of publication, Gold Fields had been granted an urgent interdict to end the strike, but the company’s executive vise-president and head of Gold Fields’ South Africa Region, Peter Turner, said that while the company had the right to proceed with the interdict, Gold Fields preferred to work with the National Union of Mineworkers to resolve the matter.


Kumba Iron Ore’s subsidiary Sishen Mine will soon be producing a number of well trained and competent female millwrights.

Millwright artisans are taught about the maintenance of electrical and mechanical equipment. This is probably the toughest trade in technical training because students have to do fault finding for both electrical and mechanical. “It is really amazing to see more and more women getting into this field… and helping to change the perception that this is a man’s job,” says Andre Mannel, Sishen’s technical training supervisor.

Training facilitator, Donald Tlhareseng, says he enjoys training women because they are very eager to learn and excel. “They are not scared of asking questions if they don’t understand anything, nor do they regard any task as too difficult for them to execute,” he says.



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