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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech by COSATU Assistant General Secretary Cde Zwelinzima Vavi at the Memorial Service of the Hartebeesfontein Mine Disaster

31 July 1997

The Chairperson Bereaved Families Comrades And the Management of the Hartebeesfontein Mine. "The Love thatfollows us is sometimes our troubles"

The above quotation might have been used in Shakespearean times under different material conditions then, but, it captures starkly what happened here, in this mine. Our comrades are no more because of their love for their families and the economic well-being of their country.

Today we are gathered here to mourn their passing and to celebrate their contributions to the human kind. The believers when consoling bereaved families says "that no human flesh decides a day like this". In this case it is the earth tremor disasters that have claimed the lives of these 18 miners and which continues to engulf our mining industries.

Of course in most cases this statement is not always true. A number of mine disasters could have been prevented if the South African mining industry was treating lives of workers more important to profits. COSATU has consistently argued for a change to this approach and attitude. We have argued for real investment on training and human resource development, we urged for investment on research and technology transfer that will prevent these disasters. All our pleas have been ignored.

In just one year, there have been three earth tremor disasters. The first tremor was in March 1997 at the Deelkraal Mine which is owned by the Goldfields, the second was at the same mine. In both incidents 13 people died with 3 permanently disabled.

The third tremor is here at Hartebeesfontein Mine. 18 People have died and 30 sustained critical injuries.

This ongoing tragedy of loss of human life to bring gold to the surface is completely unacceptable. Something must be done and it must be done urgently.

Granted, mining by its nature is a dangerous industry, because the deeper you mine the more dangerous it is. At the same time qualitative and informed research also points to management`s` negligence in terms of planning our mining houses physical structures.

Although the accidents have been reported as a natural phenomenon, Dr Michael Barry, an experienced NUM medical Officer, who is also familiar with health risks and accidents, argues that " We should not just believe them (mine owners), when they tell us that the cause of accidents is earth tremor. There are a number of incidents which can lead to this kind of accident, like rock fall and rock bust. In most cases a rock fall is the result of inadequate roof support. That in itself is a result of poor management. Rock bust is caused by the greater depth of mining. In other words the deeper you mine the higher the likelihood of having more rock bust". He continues to say that no one has control over it.

Specialised research by Geologist , meteorologist on rock balders should be conducted in order for mining houses to plan in accordance with the potential disasters as per survey projections.

COSATU is saddened by the fact that no research has been done by both the government and the research units of the mines. Promises were made by the Minister of Mineral Mr Penuel Maduna at the time of the Deal Kraal Mine disaster that the government has set aside R26m to conduct investigations into the ongoing slaughter of our members in the mines.

No research has been conducted, workers continue to be maimed, families continue to loose bread winners, the nation continue to loose its sons and daughters. The mine workers are supposed to be the most valued workers in South Africa. They, on daily basis risk with their lives and go deep underground in search of minerals like gold. Yet mine workers are amongst the worst paid. They work under the worse conditions. This must change.

COSATU calls for thorough investigation into this new disaster. We call for urgent release of the R26m so that we could begin to put a stop to the senseless waste of human life.

COSATU supports NUM`s call for an urgent inquest. We support their ongoing campaign to create a safe environment in the mining industry.

We mourn the death of our comrades and extend our deep condolences to the families. We wish those who sustained injuries a speedy recovery.