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By Ciaran Ryan

Moneyweb: Journalist & Host of Moneyweb Crypto Podcast

Lily Mine Inquest: ‘Lack of safety checks’ cause of deaths

Saps and DMRE also called out for failing to curb a highly organised illegal mining operation contributing to Lily mine pillar collapse.

A Barberton Magistrate’s Court inquest into the deaths of three Lily mine workers in February 2016 concluded that the mine owners, management and/or employers failed to do a proper risk assessment on the crown pillar that collapsed, entombing a container with three miners inside.

The inquest also pointed at the South African Police Service (Saps) and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) for their failure to curb illegal mining, which contributed to the crown pillar collapse.

The crown pillar was off-limits for mining, as its purpose was to prevent the kind of roof collapse that occurred in 2016.

Lily mine is part of Vantage Goldfields, which is currently under business rescue.

Lily mine inquest findings

Lily mine owners, management and employers failed to put in place “the necessary reasonable measures to mitigate the risk and/or to regularly and effectively monitor the risk in order to contain it”, reads the inquest finding.

The bodies of the three Lily mine workers – Pretty Nkambule, Solomon Nyirenda and Yvonne Mnisi – have yet to be recovered.

The inquest declared the three workers had died, and the matter will now be referred to the high court for review.

The findings will also be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider launching criminal proceedings.

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Armed and dangerous: Zama zamas working with Russian and Jewish mafia

An unidentified witness known as Mr X testified that there were about 50 groups of 10-20 people each operating at the mine at the time of the incident.

They bore away at the crown pillar, ignoring its critical purpose in preventing roof collapses, because of its visible gold.

The inquest finding says the zama zamas working underground were well armed and organised, working together with the Russian and Jewish mafia from Sandton, identified as the buyers of gold.

The gold buyers provided the illegal miners with drill equipment and generators.

Legally employed mine workers would supply the zama zamas, mainly foreigners who would spend weeks or even months underground, with food and drinks in return for gold.

The zama zamas gained access to the underground workings by bribing Fidelity Security guards, dressing up as legal mine workers, or by roping down. They were issued lamps and other equipment by surface staff for payment of R1 000 a person.

Explosives were obtained with the assistance of legal mine workers or by breaking open explosives storage boxes.

Lily mine ‘a kindergarten’ compared to other mines

The mine appears to have been overrun with illegal miners, though the inquest heard that this was “a kindergarten” in comparison to other mines.

What is still unknown is whether any illegal miners were trapped underground because their identities and whereabouts are still unknown.

ALSO READ: Lily Mine families spokesperson in hiding for fear of his life


Though the mine employed private security to curb illegal mining, the inquest found that the police are primarily responsible for combatting illegal activities.

“The responsibility cannot be shifted onto the private sector who must then answer to allegations that they have not done enough to protect their people and to combat the illegal activities.”

The inquest found that the police and DMRE were, at the time of the disaster, giving lip service to the issue of illegal mining and were not effectively addressing the issue.

There was evidence that employees were afraid of illegal miners who were known to be organised and violent.

Reaction to Lily mine inquest findings

Harry Mazibuko, representing the families of the deceased miners, said the families were both pleased and saddened with the inquest findings.

On the one hand, their loved ones have officially been declared dead, on the other it paves the way for Lily’s mine management and owners to be held accountable, as the matter will be referred to the Public Prosecutor.

ALSO READ: Lily Mine tragedy sank family’s dreams

Speaking to the press after the reading of the inquest findings, Vantage Goldfields CEO Mike McChesney said the magistrate should be commended for comprehensively investigating the tragedy and exposing the ineptitudes of institutions such as the police and the National Prosecuting Authority for not dealing with illegal mining.

McChesney said the mine employed two security companies, and reported illegal mining to the DMRE and police 23 years ago, but failed to get the help required to curb the activity.

An attempted rescue of the bodies failed, leaving the container buried about 80 metres underground.

The process of recovering the bodies has been delayed by the business rescue process and a series of court actions between the two bidders – Arqomanzi and Vantage Goldfields – has been tied up for years in court.

Last week, the Constitutional Court dismissed an application by Vantage Goldfields appealing a Supreme Court of Appeal finding that supported Arqomanzi’s claim to be the largest creditor in Vantage.

ALSO READ: ‘We won’t give up’- Lily Mine victims’ families mark 1,000 days camping outside mine

This article is republished from Moneyweb under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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