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Lily Mine: Lest we forget

Three Lily mine workers remain trapped underground while many others remain jobless.
Nearly seven months on, the Lily Mine collapse is slowly becoming a forgotten story. No efforts have been resumed to retrieve the bodies of Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule, and Solomon Nyerende, which remain trapped underground, and workers who hadn’t received salaries for three months have had to take severance packages as they remain jobless.
 
Meanwhile, Rob Devereux, the business rescue practitioner in charge of rescuing Lily mine, is still looking for new investors since the controversially fruitless deal for R11 million from AfroCan. In the meantime, work is continuing at the neighbouring Barbrook Mine, where some of the Lily staff have been absorbed.
 
“We are looking at recycling a nearby mine dump to increase the production at Barbrook, which will then also create a little more employment,” says Devereux.
 
“That started this month, and next week we’ll start training and social upliftment programmes in surrounding areas to give people more skills to help them get back on their feet.”
 
But the trade unions are not pleased with what has happened since the accident. National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) deputy president Joseph Montisetsi says it has been against Lily being put into business rescue from the beginning and that this is the reason why the three bodies remain trapped underground.
 
“The DMR (Department of Mineral Resources) is as much the culprit as the management of Lily Mine, in the sense that it agreed to the business rescue,” he says, “and we opposed this because we knew it meant they would focus more on rescuing the business – which they have failed dismally at doing by the way – as opposed to rescuing the trapped mine workers.”
 
He says it cannot be acceptable for government, labour, and sections of society to be at ease while there are still people “trapped underground and rotting there”, adding that it’s a shame that South Africa intervenes whenever there are natural disasters around the world, most recently after the Chilean earthquake, but fails to do the same for its own people.
 
Meanwhile, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union recently marched to the offices of the DMR demanding it pay the three families R200 000, and the surviving workers R50 000, as Minister Mosebenzi Zwane had promised a few days after the tragedy.
 
As for the workers that have been displaced and given their retrenchments, NUM has written a letter to the business rescue practitioner requesting it explain why it is dismissing workers.
 
Says Montisetsi: “According to the union, this is a dismissal because it means people are no longer at work. Dismissal can be an operational requirement, such as a retrenchments, or it can be based on a worker’s wrongdoing, or their medical fitness to continue working. Either way the correct word is that you are ‘dismissed’ from work.”

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