Picture: 123RF/PIOTR PAWINSKI
Picture: 123RF/PIOTR PAWINSKI

Four miners died and another six were injured during an earthquake 3km underground at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Driefontein mine on Thursday afternoon.

Three more miners are missing and rescue teams can see one of them trapped under fallen rock.

The number of fatalities on SA’s mines increased to 88 last year – the first rise in a decade – compared with the 73 deaths recorded in 2017. By the end of March, the death toll stood at 22.

According to the Department of Mineral Resources, 11,000 mineworkers were killed between 1984 and 2005, averaging 550 a year. SA has the world’s deepest mines.

"The gold sector has seen an increase in fatalities this year, with Sibanye-Stilwater as one of the main contributors," Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe said on Friday.

"This suggests that greater attention be paid to issues of safety, particularly the protection of the lives of workers, as opposed to the insistence of chasing production."

With seismic events accounting for about a third of fatalities last year, Mantashe has called for the formation of a team comprising members of his department, the Council for Geoscience, the Mine Health and Safety Council, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, as well as rock engineers and seismicity experts to "look into this as a matter of urgency, in order to assist the industry to better anticipate and deal with seismic activities".

The Driefontein mine, which is about 70km west of Johannesburg, is in an area known for its seismicity.

There were two events yesterday. The first measured 2.5 on the Richter Scale and no one was hurt. The second event took place an hour later on the east side of Driefontein and measured 2.2. It was this one that trapped the miners at their working place.

Proto teams, specialist rescue crews, had been called to readiness after the first event and were immediately deployed after the second one, said Sibanye spokesman James Wellsted.

“We found 10 of the 13 people who were trapped underground. Four of those 10 were fatally injured and the other six are in hospital in stable condition. Some of their injuries are serious as you can imagine, being trapped under rock 3km underground,” he said.

“The teams can see another person underground and they’re trying to rescue him. I can’t tell you what his condition is. The other two people are unaccounted for,” he said.

The National Union of Mineworkers said it was concerned about the safety record at Sibanye’s operations, which include three gold mining complexes at Driefontein and Kloof in Gauteng, Beatrix in the Free State and a swathe of platinum mines stretching south from Rustenburg.​