Implats shaft accident survivor recalls free-falling nightmare
Zaphalala Mzo from Qumbu says he does not want to work underground again
Zaphalala Mzo, who survived the shaft accident that claimed the lives of 13 of his colleagues at Impala Platinum (Implats) mine in Rustenburg in the North West, does not think he will ever go back to work underground.
The father of three from Qumbu in the Eastern Cape said if the mining company does not offer him a job on the surface, he will consider going back home.
“I don’t think I will ever go underground, but anyway my leg is hurt. If they don’t have anywhere I can work besides underground, it will be better if I go home,” he said.
Mzo started working at the mine as a machine operator in 2005.
Speaking to TimesLIVE on Wednesday, he described how the deadly November 27 incident unfolded.
“I arrived at the [work] station and I found people seated waiting for the lift. They told me the lift abruptly took off and went up. They told me they had been waiting for a long time for the lift [to return],” he said.
He said they were told the lift [conveyance] was coming.
“We waited and waited, and it finally arrived. When it arrived, it had a steel rail inside. My colleagues offloaded the steel rail and told us to get into the lift,” he said.
He recalled asking them why they would use the lift again after it had got stuck at one point. He claimed the controllers told them they were running late.
“We went in, and it was closed, and it took off. It stopped at [level] 19, loaded and offloaded, 18 it went past, and it went to 17 and loaded people and just before it got to 16 it tripped,” he said.
Mzo said as they were still inside the conveyance, they heard a sound and that was when the lift went down.
“We heard that it has cut off. We could feel it went off [from the rope controlling the lift]. From the way it moved, it was free-falling.
We were crying and screaming while holding each other saying ‘what is happening, how can the lift go off with us inside?Zaphalala Mzo, Implats mineworker
“We were crying and screaming while holding each other saying, ‘What is happening, how can the lift go off with us inside?’ It went down, hit the bottom of its shaft and it bumped several times and stopped.”
Mzo said they heard a sound on top of the conveyance. He assumed it was the sound of the rope. When the conveyance landed at the bottom section, they found there were mineworkers working there.
“People who were working at the bottom section came as we were screaming. We were all injured. The lift was full of blood. We asked [a co-worker] to open it for us. He tried to open it, but he was unable to,” he said.
Walking on crutches with an orthopaedic cast on his right leg, he described how the top of the conveyance was opened and two colleagues — including a female safety rep — pulled them up as they raised their arms to be lifted out.
“We then sat on the ground. They cut open [the lift] with the cutting torch and then took out the rest of us. This was the moment when they realised that some of the people had died,” he said.
Mzo said they got out of the mine through shaft 11C and when he asked the paramedic for the time, he was told it was 3am.
Business Times previously reported the incident had occurred at about 5pm, meaning the ordeal for Nzo had lasted about 10 hours.
Implats on Wednesday held a memorial service for the miners who died. Some of the relatives of the deceased complained that the incident was due to negligence.
One of the family’s representatives, Nolunyisa Ndzuma, said they had lost breadwinners and pleaded with the mine to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
“Some are not just friends, they are parents. Some are husbands, some are our brothers. As a family, we are saying this is a big loss. They were breadwinners to our families,” she said.
Addressing thousands of miners on Wednesday, Impala Rustenburg CEO Moses Motlhageng said 46 employees were still hospitalised while 27 had been discharged.
“On Monday November 27 when Impala heard about the tragic incident, we immediately took decisive action during that night. This incident took the team on site less than 12 hours to complete,” he said.
He said on the same night of the incident, expert evaluations were conducted in each shaft to ensure extensive safety measures were in place.
“We want to reassure everyone that these measures are aimed at preventing such tragic events from ever occurring again in our operation,” he said.
Motlhageng told mourners a comprehensive investigation was under way and the company was collaborating with stakeholders to uncover the cause.
“As we gather information and insights, we are committed to sharing our findings, ensuring transparency and fully respecting the statutory process that is under way.
Implats’ WeCare programme would be expanded to provide support for the families of the deceased and injured, he said.
The families would be assisted with immediate needs, including psychosocial support, arrangements for transport, accommodation and funeral arrangements.
“We will be taking care of the education needs of the children of the deceased, including tertiary support and employment opportunities.”
Deputy minister of mineral resources and energy Nobuhle Nkabane said an investigation would be followed by an inquiry to establish the cause of the accident.
“It will happen publicly, we ask all stakeholders and interested parties to come forward.
“The department will leave no stone unturned [during] the investigation and inquiry into this incident. I want to urge mineworkers not to risk their lives because of production bonuses. If it is not safe to work, work must be stopped,” she said.
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