The recent tragedy at the Impala Platinum mine, which claimed the lives of 11 workers, has prompted the Minister of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, to caution trade unions against using the incident as a recruitment tool.
The Rustenberg-based mine experienced a mechanical fault in its conveyance system, causing a cage carrying 86 mineworkers to plummet to the bottom of the shaft.
While investigations are underway to determine the cause of the accident, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), the majority union at the mine, has criticized Impala management for their alleged negligence in implementing health and safety protocols.
Mantashe believes that mining disasters should serve as an opportunity for trade unions to contribute to the improvement of workers’ safety. He emphasizes the importance of collaboration in achieving the goal of zero harm in the mining industry.
While acknowledging the need to pay attention to such incidents and learn from them, Mantashe discourages the exploitation of disasters for campaigning purposes. He states, “We don’t campaign on disasters.”
AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa, on the other hand, has called for an amendment to the Health and Safety Act. He suggests that employers should be charged with culpable homicide in cases where negligence leads to the death of a worker.
Mathunjwa expresses his skepticism about the likelihood of such amendments being made, citing political interests in the mining sector as a hindrance to legislative changes. He asserts, “If the politicians did not have an interest, the Mine Health and Safety Act would have been amended a long time ago.”
In response to the tragedy, the Impala mine has temporarily suspended all underground operations until the cause of the mechanical failure is identified and rectified. This proactive measure demonstrates the mine’s commitment to prioritizing the safety and well-being of its workforce.
The incident at the Impala Platinum mine serves as a stark reminder of the risks faced by mineworkers and the importance of stringent safety measures in the industry. Mining companies have a responsibility to ensure the well-being of their employees and to continuously improve safety protocols to prevent accidents.
Trade unions play a vital role in advocating for workers’ rights and safety, and their input is valuable in shaping policies and practices that protect the lives and livelihoods of mineworkers.
It is essential for all stakeholders, including government, mining companies, and trade unions, to collaborate effectively in addressing the challenges and risks associated with mining operations.
By fostering a culture of transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement, the mining industry can strive towards achieving zero harm and creating a safe working environment for all employees.
While the Impala Platinum mine tragedy is a tragic event, it should serve as a catalyst for positive change rather than a platform for political posturing.
By focusing on the lessons learned from such incidents, trade unions and mining companies can work together to prevent future accidents and protect the lives of mineworkers.