Masoka Dube

By Masoka Dube


‘Who burnt my son?’ – Mpumalanga mom still searches for answers after fiery ordeal

Teenager suffers severe burns in coal mine incident; authorities fail to identify responsible party. Family demands answers.

A mother of a Mpumalanga teenager who sustained third-degree burns after he fell into burning coal has accused authorities of failing to locate the owner of the “unrehabilitated” land where the incident happened.

Siboniso Hleza, 16, from the small mining town of Phola near Ogies, Mpumalanga, was injured in October 2022 when he was out hunting rabbits with his friends at the site believed to be an old open-cast coal mine.

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“People from the department of mineral resources and energy came and accompanied Siboniso and his friends to the site where the incident happened,” said Siboniso’s mother Gcibela Hleza.

“They told us they were investigating and would come back with an answer but until today, they have not returned.

“We told them everything and my son and his friends also managed to identify the area where the incident happened.

“The teenagers told us that when the incident happened, they saw Siboniso and his dog disappearing into the sinkhole that was created when the ground sank. The dog burnt to death but my son managed to come out of the burning coals.”

Son struggles to walk

Hleza said after the incident, her son has never been the same again as he struggles to walk properly because his legs and hands are badly burnt.

She said he is a Grade 9 pupil at Mehlwana High School which is a few kilometres away and that he struggles to get to school.

Hleza has appealed to the authorities to speed up the investigation so the family can identify the owner of the land. She said all the mines operating in the area refused to take responsibility and claimed the land was not theirs.

The Saturday Citizen has seen doctors’ letters saying that the teenager spent most of his time in the hospital being treated for burn wounds.

Phola branch coordinator of the Mining Affected Communities United in Action, Bongani Nkosi, said his organisation has been trying to help the family locate the owner.

But “no-one has been located or come forward. Indeed, the victim has previously taken us to different locations but we trust the current location he has shown us because even his friends agreed that it was where the incident happened,” he said.

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When contacted for comment, department of mineral resources and energy spokesperson Ernest Mulibana said: “An investigation was conducted in terms of Section 60 of the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1996.

“It found that the injured child could not identify the scene where the alleged incident occurred and that no unrehabilitated pit or sinkhole was found within the areas demarcated for mining.”

He did not say why the department had failed to inform the family and the community about the outcome of the investigation.

According to the authorities, Mpumalanga Highveld is one of the areas that has several tracts of unrehabilitated land.

An unrehabilitated area is a piece of land where mining activities took place and never returned to the condition it was in before it was mined. In 2022, Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke said there were 6 100 abandoned mines and 1 170 mine openings countrywide.

She instructed the government to urgently address the rehabilitation of abandoned mines as they endangered the surrounding communities.

In the 2009 audit, her office “found that the department’s rehabilitation efforts had not effectively addressed the environmental and social impact of unrehabilitated abandoned mines and that the department did not have an approved national strategy or policies and procedures to link rehabilitation objectives to set time frames, priorities and responsibilities.”

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