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Phalaborwa mine holds urgent meetings after deaths of 6 miners

The men became trapped underground in Limpopo on Sunday when the blaze broke out while they were working on a new conveyor belt.

Palabora Mining Company entrance. Picture: Louise McAuliffe/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Management at the Palabora Mining Company has held a series of urgent meetings on Monday following an underground fire that's claimed the lives of six miners.

The men became trapped underground in Limpopo on Sunday when the blaze broke out while they were working on a new conveyor belt.

One worker was rushed to a hospital in Tzaneen, it’s understood he's now in a stable condition.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union held talks with management at the mine, demanding an explanation for the tragedy.

The union’s President Joseph Mathunjwa says management has not yet given a clear account.

“The management has not been clear as to what really happened and what started the fire, except that they were working on the new conveyer belt.”

The acting chief inspector and a team of inspectors from the Mineral Resources Department who also met with management on Monday say a detailed update is not yet ready.

Operations have been halted at the mine and management says the families of the deceased have been making their way to Phalaborwa.

At the same time, Parliament's portfolio committee on mineral resources has sent its condolences to the families of the six miners.

The committee says mine health and safety has reached crisis proportions and requires urgent intervention.

Chairperson Sahlulele Luzipo said: “Something drastic must be done, including finalising the issue of the Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill. We agree there are many things we must do in mining.”

It has sent a letter to Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe to seek clarity on the status of the Mine Health and Safety Amendment Bill, saying it’s become an urgent piece of legislation.

The committee also wants to hear what measures the department is implementing in the meantime.

SIBANYE-STILLWATER DEATHS

Earlier this month, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said it wanted the establishment of a legally binding document regulating health and safety in mines.

Sibanye-Stillwater signed a safety pledge with organised labour and the government to reduce the number of fatalities at its operations.

The gold producing company said it was still investigating the death of a miner who died at its Driefontein operation in the east of Johannesburg.

Sibanye-Stillwater committed, with the Department of Mineral Resources and some unions including the NUM and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), to prioritise safety in mines.

NUM's Mpho Phakedi said though this pledge is not legally binding, it still allowed all those involved to hold each other accountable.

“The process should lead to something that will be a legally binding document to a certain extent.”

At the same time, Sibanye-Stillwater’s James Wellsted said its output for gold production had been revised for this year.

A US law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against the company to recover investment losses suffered as a result of 21 fatalities at Sibanye-Stillwater mines.

Additional reporting by Sifiso Zulu.

(Edited by Winnie Theletsane)

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