- Written by Danielle De Simone and Farooq Chauthia
- BBC News, Rustenburg and London
An accident at a platinum mine in South Africa killed 11 workers and injured 75 others, the mine operating company announced.
Impala Platinum CEO Nico Mueller called it the “darkest day” in the company’s history.
The company said the accident occurred due to a winding rope connected to a cage-shaped elevator that lifts people up and down the mine shaft. She added that the elevator started moving down unexpectedly.
South Africa has some of the deepest mines in the world.
It is a major producer of platinum, gold and other raw materials.
There have long been concerns about safety conditions in its mines, but the situation has improved since white minority rule ended in 1994.
The latest accident occurred on Monday at a mine in Rustenburg, about 100 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg.
This brings the number of deaths in South African mines to 55 people this year.
“This is a terrible blow to our ambition to end 2023 with fewer deaths than last year when there were 49 deaths, an all-time low, and continue our journey towards zero harm,” said Mzila Mthengane, CEO of the Minerals Council. South Africa, the main representative of mining companies in the country.
Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe visited the mine.
He described the accident as a disaster, and said that a comprehensive investigation would be conducted to determine the circumstances of the accident.
Impala Platinum said operations at the mine have been suspended.
“Implats provides ongoing support to the families and colleagues of those lost in service,” Mueller said in a statement.
“We are also keeping our injured colleagues in our thoughts at this extremely difficult time.”
Johan Theron, a company spokesman, told the BBC that the 75 surviving miners were all “injured to some extent” and had been taken to hospitals, but some were suffering from “very serious” injuries.
He added that ten people were in critical condition, and one of them was airlifted to Johannesburg to receive “intensive care.”
Theron added that the cage-like elevator, which was used to extract workers from the mine, fell out of control and hit the bottom of the shaft.
A company spokesman said that some of those affected by the tragedy were from outside South Africa.
Local media quoted Theron as saying that the incident was “highly unusual” and that the elevator was used around the world and was known to be safe.
Elevators in many deep mines in South Africa can carry more than 100 people, according to Agence France-Presse.
The head of the Miners and Construction Union, Joseph Matungwa, told the BBC that the company “must take full responsibility and go beyond the usual procedures in terms of compensation” to the victims.
He said the 11 miners “died underground due to a faulty cage” and that “we strongly believe that this accident could have been avoided because signs were already there that it was faulty.”
Matungwa said a malfunction was discovered during maintenance on the elevator earlier, but the investigation said it was in good condition.
When the BBC made this claim to the mining company, a spokesman said it was not aware of the issues raised, but the union was welcome to come forward with its concerns.
The spokesman added that the equipment is checked on a daily basis.
Matungwa said the union wanted an “independent expert” to participate in the official investigation.
The National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa said the workers who died were not “just numbers”, but were supporting their families who loved them.
She added in a statement: “This incident is very disturbing and raises many questions about health and safety issues.”
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