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Updated 12:02 17/08/18

Cave-in kills seven as earthquake hits South African gold mine

Liam Sheasby

By Liam Sheasby, News Editor

09 May 2018

Seven miners have died following a cave-in at a gold mine west of Johannesburg, South Africa caused by a nearby earthquake.

The magnitude 4.5 earthquake hit Soweto last Thursday, triggering the mine collapse and trapping 13 workers. 10 people were rescued but three were unreachable, and four of those workers pulled out succumbed to their injuries.

Image courtesy of Google Maps. The Masakhane mine is marked in red, to the west of Johannesburg.

South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramphosa, said: "As government and South Africans at large, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased workers, among whom are workers from neighboring states including Mozambique".

The Masakhane gold mine is operated by Sibanye-Stillwater. Only in February the company made the news after 955 miners were trapped underground for over 24 hours following a severe storm knocking out the power. Backup generators failed to work, and miners were left below ground until replacements power was found.

Criticism has been levelled at Sibanye-Stillwater from both the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Costatu), who say they are "alarmed by the deteriorating and poor safety record of Sibanye-Stillwater" and from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) who are "angry and concerned at the rate at which mining incidents are happening at Sibanye-Stillwater."

According to statistics from South Africa’s Chamber of Mines and the Department of Mineral Resources, there were 73 mining deaths in 2016, 76 in 2017, and by the end of March 2018 there were 22 deaths. If this rate repeats itself each quarter then 2018 could reach 88 deaths – a sizeable rise from last year’s total.

Mining companies in South Africa are already under heavy scrutiny following a landmark settlement in the nation’s courts, with the largest group legal action in the history of the country winning a 5 billion rand ($400m/£285m) payout for miners since 1965 who had since suffered lung disease as a result of poor working conditions. An additional 4 billion rand has been put aside for those families who have already lost a former miner to said conditions.

Silicosis is a disease caused by inhaling the dust generated from mining gold-bearing rocks. It causes permanent scarring of the lungs and can lead to tuberculosis. Almost all of South Africa’s mining companies, including Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, African Rainbow Minerals, Sibanye-Stillwater, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American were involved in the settlement.

Mining operations at the Masakhane mine have been suspended until further notice.

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