The South African Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has declared mining safety to be a human rights issue after the deaths of seven miners who were trapped underground in Sibayne-Stillwater’s Masakhane shaft following two seismic events in May this year.

A further six workers were hospitalised, four of whom were placed in an intensive care unit. The event has brought the number of mining fatalities in South Africa in 2018 to 33, compared with 28 for the same period last year, and 25 in 2016.

ANC Party spokesperson Pule Mabe said: “We hope that the latest tragedy will shake mining companies into prioritising the safety of workers. There must be a total overhaul of safety measures in all mining operations. Among other things, mining companies have a responsibility to ensure that effective rescue plans are in place.”

AMCU has demanded the shafts be closed until investigations into the deaths are completed, and union president Joseph Mathunjwa said mining companies should face civil claims when accidents such as these take place.

“It is simply ludicrous that the life of a mineworker is worth a mere 36 months of basic salary,” said Mathunjwa. “The union undertakes to heighten its campaign in ensuring that the Department of Mineral Resources ups its game in regulating mining in South Africa.”

While the Mine Health and Safety Council (MSHC) has already invested R250m into seismicity research for the benefit of deep-level mines, an increase in seismic activity has led to more dangerous rock bursts. Simultaneously the number of rock falls, historically the main cause of accidents, has declined, suggesting the MHSC will need to modernise its approach to safety.

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The AMCU has pledged to work with Sibayne-Stillwater to address these issues and ensure miner safety can be guaranteed.

“AMCU will be participating in the Sibanye-Stillwater Safety Summit which is scheduled to take place on 25 May 2018,” said the union in a statement. “We trust that all stakeholders will be present, including the Department of Mineral Resources.”