The Committee met to be briefed by the Department of Mineral Resources on its 2nd quarterly report for 2015/16 and the Lily Mine accident and current developments in Barberton.
The Minister said that although the day was set aside for the quarterly report, it would be remiss of him to not reflect on the tragedy that took place in Barberton at the Lily Mine. He asked everyone present to keep the families of the affected miners in their prayers and was asking for patience and support in that regard. He noted that the sector was facing quite a few challenges in terms of commodity pricing and minerals demand globally. The Ministry had reflected on the 2016 State of the Nation Address and had heard the debates that followed, together with concerns and aspirations of citizens regarding mining and minerals development in the country. The Ministry would prioritise job retention, re-skilling/up-skilling of labour and protection of the industry, and planning for future growth. Those issues were enshrined in the 10 key interventions of the multi-stakeholder declaration on the protection of jobs. As of mid-year, September 2015, DMR had achieved 81% of its 83 targets due for the 2nd quarter and had spent 56% of its allocated budget.
Some of the achievements amongst the 130 development projects DMR had implemented was the provision of water and sanitation for 800 households in Kathu, Northern Cape. DMR had developed and commissioned a slate mining project where 15 individuals were currently employed. The rehabilitation of the Mang le Mang Asbestos site in Chuenespoort, Limpopo had employed 31 people.
The Committee asked the DMR to expand on its job retention strategy, the stakeholder declaration and the milestone plan. Moreover, it asked:
- How much rehabilitation was going on across the mining industry? What was the main objective of promoting concurrent rehabilitation by DMR and how was that done?
- What happened at the conclusion of mining operations after rehabilitation took over and the funds set aside for that purpose had not been used completely?
- How far was the country in exploiting shale gas deposits as a game changer and employment driver?
- Seeing that the DMR had already spent 56% of its allocated budget, what priorities remained for the remaining budget?
- How many jobs had been lost before the signing of the Stakeholder declaration and how many had been saved or created since the declaration?
- What had been the impact of the fluctuating but low commodity prices on the mining sector and the broader economy of the country? Could DMR indicate when and whether the prices would stabilise and hopefully increase?
The DMR spoke about the Lily Mine disaster of the 5 February. It was a first that mine workers operating on the surface of a mine ended up being trapped underground, while those that had been working underground, had all been rescued. The ongoing rescue operations had a setback on the 13 February when there was a secondary collapse. Before the arrival of the rescue drill the operations had been hampered by the fact that it was difficult to determine at which level the container with the three trapped mine workers was situated. Alternative rescue operations had been attempted.
The Committee asked for background information on whether a mine inspector had signed off on the design of the Lily Mine. When last had the Lily Mine been inspected? What impact had the accident had on the other mine workers; would the mine be able to continue with operations at the conclusion of the current episode? Was the incident likely to result in job losses?
The Chairperson noted that sadly the country was still grappling with the Lily Mine accident where three miners were still trapped underground. The Committee was extending its sincere support to the families of the trapped miners and appreciated the manner in which the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and other departments had been handling the challenges at Lily Mine since early February.
Before handing over to the Department to present its report he outlined the agenda and asked for additions or adoption of the agenda.
Mr Z Mandela (ANC) said that he was putting notice on record again, about Mr J Malema and Mr M Dlamini both EFF members that continued to be absent from the Committee. It was proper that that this be pointed out as the EFF was quite vocal on the issue of meeting attendance.
The Chairperson commented that the first presentation would be the quarterly report. He told the meeting that he had once attended a Committee meeting where the executive authority presented alone without giving his department officials a chance. He was not instructing the Minister or the Department to do that or anything outside of normal procedure.
Remarks by Minister of Mineral Resources
Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said that although the day was set aside for the quarterly report, it would be remiss of him to not reflect on the tragedy that took place in Barberton at the Lily Mine. He asked everyone present to keep the families of the affected miners in their prayers and was asking for patience and support in that regard.
He said the sector was facing quite a few challenges in terms of commodity pricing and minerals demand globally. The Ministry however, was confident the sector would withstand the storm and use the minerals crisis as an opportunity to ensure the transformation of the industry and strengthen its foundations for future generations.
He said that the Ministry had reflected on the 2016 State of the Nation Address (SONA) and had heard the debates that followed together with the concerns and aspirations of citizens regarding mining and minerals development in the country. Thus, the Ministry would prioritise job retention, re-skilling/up-skilling of labour and protection of the industry, and planning for future growth. Those issues were enshrined in the 10 key interventions of the multi-stakeholder declaration on the protection of jobs. The implementation of those interventions was proceeding in partnership with the relevant institutions and stakeholders.
The Ministry would work hard with the private sector to leverage on the commissioned investment into the mining industry towards 2018, which was estimated to be at just over $5 billion. Using platforms like the Mining Indaba and the Trade and Investment South Africa (TISA) facility announced by the President in the SONA, the Ministry would do its best to attract investment into the country. Minister Zwane said that as of September 2015, DMR had achieved 81% of its 83 targets due for the 2nd quarter and had spent 56% of its allocated budget.
DMR 2nd quarter performance: July-September 2015
Ms Rofhiwa Singo, DMR Chief Financial Officer (CFO), went through the presentation, noting that DMR’s vision and targets were derived from the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF).
Highlights - Mineral regulation
Amongst the 130 development projects that DMR had implemented was the provision of water and sanitation for 800 households in Kathu, Northern Cape.
Highlights - Mineral Policy and Promotion
In terms of small scale mining projects, DMR had developed and commissioned a slate mining project where 15 individuals were currently employed. The rehabilitation of the Mang le Mang Asbestos site in Chuenespoort, Limpopo, had employed 31 people.
Highlights - Corporate services
Ms Singo said that DMR vacancy rate of 14% during the period under review was due to the challenge of DMR realigning its finances in line with the current economic crisis in the country and the fact that it had always had vacancies in the Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate (MHSI). However, 46 of 50 trainee health and safety inspectors were finishing training in March 2016 and would be absorbed into the DMR establishment.
Mr J Lorimer (DA) said he would like DMR to expand on the job retention strategy, the stakeholder declaration and the milestone plan which had been alluded to. Were the milestones observable and being met on schedule? How were they being quantified? How much rehabilitation was going on across the mining industry? What was the main objective of promoting concurrent rehabilitation by DMR and how was that done? From when could the rehabilitation funds be accessed by the mining projects set aside for the completion of that work? Were they accessible before the conclusion of mining operations? What happened at the conclusion of mining operations after rehabilitation took over and the funds set aside for that purpose had not been used up completely?
Mr I Pikinini (ANC) asked how far DMR was in fully staffing the MHSI as since the inception of the Committee, it had maintained the need for improvement of safety labour plans as one fatality was one too many. How far was the country in exploiting shale gas deposits as a game changer and employment driver? In terms of women’s advancement in mining, the Committee noted the holding of a women’s conference. However specifics needed to be provided about safety wear for female miners and what DMR had been doing to curb sexual harassment of female miners.
Mr M Matlala (ANC) noted a geographical error as the Mogalakwena mining community disputes were actually in the Waterberg region and not in Polokwane as written in the report. Seeing that DMR had already spent 56% of its allocated budget, what priorities remained for the remaining budget allocation? When would the vacancy rate of 14% be rectified by DMR?
Mr Mandela asked how far the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) amendments process was. Was DMR doing enough to ensure the safety and health of miners in the wake of the Lily Mine accident? What had been done to compensate or support the families of the miners? How many jobs had been lost before the signing of the Stakeholder Declaration and how many had been saved or created since that declaration? What had been the impact of the fluctuating but low commodity prices on the mining sector and the broader economy of the country? Could DMR indicate when and whether the prices would stabilise and hopefully increase?
Mr Mandela said that the Committee had long awaited a presentation by DMR on Operation Phakisa to understand better what the work entailed. Could the DMR talk to those targets and what exactly had been achieved? He repeated Mr Pikinini’s sentiments about shale gas exploration and asked what impact that exploration would have on the environment and the country’s scarce water resources? What opportunities were envisaged and how many real jobs would be created from that exploration?
The Chairperson said DMR had to tell the Committee what was happening with the MPRDA amendments.
Ms Singo replied that DMR believed that its remaining budget would cover the remaining six months of the financial year.
On the vacancy rate, DMR had recently received its budget allocation letter and with the current economic crisis there would have to be budget cuts on compensation of employees. Therefore DMR had identified certain posts that it felt could not fill. DMR would remove certain posts from its establishment that would free up some of its budget and it would achieve its target on the vacancies it was allowed to fill. Some of the MHSI learner inspectors would be coming into the DMR establishment in March and others in April and that would assist in reducing the vacancy rate.
On mining closures, there were different types of provisions that DMR employed, one of which was money held in a trust by DMR. The DMR would issue a closure certificate first before releasing this back to the owners of the mine. However, there were funds held by the companies themselves through guarantees and trusts. The same procedures were followed in that the closing certificate requirements were similar.
Mr Joel Raphela, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Mineral Regulations, said that between April-August 2015 there were over 13 486 potential job losses as a result of ongoing retrenchments through Sections 189 and 52 notices. Through a number of interventions, jobs that ended up being saved totalled 1 358 and more importantly since the signing of the stakeholder declaration there had been an increase in the total number of jobs eventually saved so that the cumulative number of saved jobs to date was 3 749. Essentially there was an impact on the number of jobs saved as a consequence of DMR interventions.
In terms of implementing the declaration further, DMR was continuing to call on mining companies to desist from using retrenchments despite the challenges they were facing. As an example, working with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) through processes embedded in section 189 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) as well as section 52 of the MPRDA, the integration and streamlining of these had also yielded some positives in the form of avoiding potential duplication of work as all stakeholders were working to avert possible job losses.
The milestone plan was available but Mr Raphela said he would request the Committee to allow DMR to present this comprehensively next week including further details on the declaration.
On procedures in place for concurrent rehabilitation and what happened to leftover funds post-rehabilitation, Mr Raphela said that leftover funds were separated into a retained portion by DMR, for the residual impact of mining. In terms of DMR encouraging concurrent rehabilitation, he reminded the Committee that that was one of the areas that DMR was strengthening in its various legislative amendments since it had identified that rehabilitation was not taking place at the pace it was supposed to. Therefore for purposes of job retention or creation thereof, DMR together with its stakeholders had identified the use of concurrent rehabilitation as a job saver or creator.
Ms Setepane Mohale, Chief Director: Mineral Policy and Promotion, said that the set-up of concurrent rehabilitation was not like when one had a 30 year mining licence that translated to R20 million for the life of that mine. The calculation was calculated on a five-year cycle projection and therefore there was an in-built benefit for the mine itself to engage in concurrent rehabilitation as each year one was able to review the five-year allocation individually. Therefore concurrent rehabilitation was not only a stick, but there was an economic mechanism that made it worthwhile to engage in concurrent rehabilitation. That money was not only a portion held by DMR as there were three formats of payment for the financial provision one of which was the cash deposit. There was also the insurance approach as well as a financial guarantee. Certainly with the new provisions of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), DMR was definitely stemming the trend of derelict and onerous mines which were a concern to the Committee, especially with the residual amount held in trust and ensuring that the directors of mining companies could be held personally liable for any challenges to environmental rehabilitation.
Shale gas was definitely still seen as a game changer and part of the work of the Oceans Phakisa was it had to ensure that the legislative and regulatory environment would be conducive for investors. As the pricing game had changed, that had allowed DMR an opportunity to engage with citizens as well as the relevant technical skills to ensure that the regulations published in 2015 would be sound and sustainable in the long term. Applications had already been received and there were ongoing consultations to ensure that there was a good sense of community buy-in and that the regulations were quite robust.
On growing the oceans economy, Ms Mohale said that South Africa, a modern mining juggernaut for over 100 years, had not had a single commercial ship transporting its exports. That opportunity to transport was a major missed opportunity niche on its shores. It had finally acquired two bulk carriers with the SA flag since the launch of the Oceans Phakisa, which would be exporting. The country had also realised over R2 billion in investments into the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) in refurbishments of the ports on the country’s coastline.
Ms Mohale said the Minister had alluded to what DMR was doing about the low commodity trends globally. That was for SA to go back to what it had originally agreed to do when facing similar challenges in 2010 following the 2008 declaration. That had been to engage robustly in ensuring community buy-in, transformation and ensuring the fundamentals of the industry so that all stakeholders would be able to jointly promote the industry. Essentially the Minister was highlighting the fact that there was a healthy line of projects which were noted by the CFO in her presentation. Important to note was that, although there was a dip, the country was significantly higher in terms of gross capital formation compared to 2009 and prior years. The country had to capitalise on that interest from investors and two of the largest investments in the region were in platinum mining. One was the Platreef Mine in Mogalakwena, Limpopo, and the Ivanhoe project which was a rich and shallow body of platinum.
Ms Patricia Gamede, DDG: Corporate Services, reiterated Ms Singo’s statements that DMR had identified critical posts that needed filling and had tried to align those to the current available budget. Those which DMR could not fill, the Department would undertake a process of identifying which posts could be removed from the establishment and that work it envisaged would be concluded at the end of this financial year.
On the sexual harassment of female miners, the Mine Health and Safety Council had designed new protective clothing suitable for female miners and equipment for raising alarm when a female miner felt that she was in possible danger of assault.
Dr Xolile Mbonambi, DMR Acting Chief Inspector, said that DMR continued to place great emphasis on Mine Health and Safety (MHS). He reminded the Committee that before 1994 the mining sector reported high mining fatalities and occupational diseases. At that time at least 500 deaths and 10 000 injuries were reported per annum. Since the dawn of democracy there had been a downward trend in the number of deaths and injuries, despite one death being one too many. A total of 77 deaths had been reported in 2015 compared to 84 in 2014. However, 2015 had recorded the lowest number of mining fatalities since the establishment of mining in SA. Fatalities reported by gold and coal mines in 2015 had substantially decreased by 25% and 44% respectively when compared to 2014. There was also a decrease in fatalities classified as falls of ground, general and explosives related which came down to 12%, 31% and 33% respectively. There were currently more mining companies which were able to operate for more than 12 months with no fatalities. Compliance with statutory reporting had also improved as mines were timeously submitting their occupational hygiene statutory returns and annual medical reports. Nationally, silicosis cases and noise induced hearing loss had decreased by 24%.
On whether DMR was doing enough to protect the lives of miners, there were initiatives that DMR had embarked on, one of which was a stakeholder collaboration. DMR would continue working through the Mining Industry Growth Development and Employment Task Team (MIGDETT) to address health and safety. Secondly, DMR was planning to implement its 2014 milestones which were also aimed at protecting mine workers. The milestones involved commitments made by the industry at a summit where DMR and labour resolved to ensure that every miner returned home unharmed every day.
On monitoring compliance and enforcing legal provisions; DMR was continually conducting group audits and inspections and was also improving its capacity to monitor compliance. As mentioned in statements about the vacancy rate, DMR had recruited unemployed graduates as assistant inspectors, 46 of whom would be entering DMR’s establishment in 2016 as learner inspectors.
On compensation and relief given to families of deceased miners, Dr Mbonambi asked that the Minister respond to that question.
Minister Zwane said that the MPRDA Bill was within the Committee’s reach such that DMR was pleading with the Committee to assist. The matter had been raised in the SONA. DMR had raised it in the Mining Indaba as it believed the amendments would assist in bringing policy certainty.
The Ministry was prioritising MHS as it had unfortunately had about 7 fatalities in 2015 compared to the 11 from the same period in 2014 ago. He said that DMR signed letters of condolences having first probed the reasons behind fatalities. Two weeks before, DMR had attended a funeral in Limpopo where the Ministry had been told by the mine that the miner had died because a runaway truck had lost its brakes. The DMR was following up matters like that where the reasons were simply unsatisfactory. The Minister said that in two weeks’ time, DMR would be meeting with Chief Executive Officers of all mining companies in SA to put the spotlight on MHS. However, those specific cases were not overshadowing DMR’s progress towards zero harm in Mine Health and Safety (MHS). As its recently released statistics on the matter would indicate, the Ministry was on track in that regard. DMR would continue ensuring that its monitoring systems on MHS were effective and that mine owners, MHS staff and even miners themselves were always compliant with the regulations, as miners were also negligent in certain cases regarding MHS.
DMR was of the view that it had to ensure that it did not spend more on administration which was why the Minister had asked that a structural review be done to see if everyone was being used optimally. Those that were not being effectively used could then be moved to other units where there were human resource shortages. That had been why DMR had not pushed forward in decreasing its vacancy rate as it was trying to be responsible with how it was spending its budget. It was prioritising a lean administrative structure so that the rest of the budget could be dedicated to service delivery
The Chairperson said that the Committee would have to differentiate between Operation Phakisa for mining and Operation Phakisa for the oceans economy. Therefore the Committee had to note that that matter was not resolved and would be attended to in future and DMR would have to return to account to the Committee.
Secondly, the Committee possibly would have to shelve the question by Mr Mandela on what the common practice was when there are incidents of mining fatalities and injuries, and not specifically what special arrangements had been made at the Lily Mine as of late. Therefore DMR would have to respond to that question when presenting on the Lily Mine accident: specifically, it would have to distinguish what was common practice, its special arrangements and very unusual situations.
He was requesting that the presentation on the stakeholder declaration be quite detailed when DMR returned as the oral presentation would not be sufficient.
Quarterly reports had to be consistent with the Annual Report as the Committee consistently checked for such when reflecting on the quarters and what the Annual Report was saying. Therefore DMR had to be aware of that when presenting quarterly reports. Mid-year, DMR was reporting it had spent 56% of its budget, which was why the Committee would be concerned whether the remaining targets would be achieved with the remaining budget. In the current situation DMR seemed to have achieved most of its targets in the first six months which would mean there was a possibility of underspending as possibly not much budget would be needed for the remaining targets. The Ministry would have to be cognisant of that going forward.
On the establishment of satellite offices, had DMR considered establishing those in partnership with other departments? For example, the Department of Labour (DoL) had a large number of labour centres established already. That spoke to the fact of inaccessibility of regional satellite offices if a miner resided in deep rural areas, as was the case in the Eastern Cape. Hopefully that kind of cooperation between departments would be something for consideration going forward.
The Chairperson warned that DMR had to be careful of cost cutting in places where its performance could be compromised though he agreed with the President’s SONA that budget cuts had to be made.
He said that on MHS there were both regulations and a Council for that purpose. DMR’s expenditure would be on MHS however, the Mine Health and Safety Council (MHSC) still owed the Committee an explanation on what had happened to the surplus R25 million from the 2014/15 financial year. He agreed with the Minister that sometimes other stakeholders had to account for negligence regarding recent incidents concerning mine health and safety.
Those price trends depreciations were all good and well but the Committee would welcome a detailed account of how that had all occurred as it had no way of checking which companies constituted the production of that specific statistic on the depreciation of coal, for example. Was it possible for the Committee to be given a breakdown, even if by company share price, so that it could separate those MHS compliant and profitable companies from those profitable companies that are MHS negligent?
The Chairperson noted that the minutes of the Committee would reflect and report on the MPRDA Bill progress including the legal opinion which had been sought in that regard. Also included would be the Committee’s programme, which included what the Committee was to be doing in the first term of 2016 and then whatever was outstanding for the rest of 2016.
Mr J Lorimer (DA) asked when the final shale gas exploration regulations would be published. He was not satisfied that Minister Zwane was “folding his arms” on the MPRDA Bill, saying he was bound by the procedural issues of Parliament on moving forward with the MPRDA amendments. Policy certainty was a requirement indeed, however, Mr Lorimer did not understand what the procedural issue was on those amendments. Parliamentary staff could not tell him what the procedure was and presumably the Minister was taking advice from the same individuals. However, there could be other factors stalling the amendments – as logic would dictate there should be – including the fact that the Mining Charter was facing two court challenges. He asked the Minister to be a bit more detailed on what the delays were and what would happen if DMR lost one or both of those court challenges.
Adv H Schmidt (DA) asked what progress there had been in filling the Director-General position and he asked where the acting DG was.
The Chairperson said that the issue which the Minister would talk to in his response on the MPRDA amendments was that this was a responsibility of the Committee and could not be abdicated to someone else. He certainly was not protecting the Minister from the questions raised by Mr Lorimer but those procedural matters were not blocked in any corridor of any institution. Except to say that the Committee would have a challenge in forcing the officials who were supposed to process the Bill by possibly saying they were not supposed to tag the Bill, aside from the court challenges faced by the Mining Charter.
Minister Zwane said there had been an oversight in not mentioning that the acting DG had been left at Lily Mine as DMR felt that was proper. The reasons would become clear during the presentation on Lily Mine. On the appointment of a new DG, normal processes were being followed and that appointment would be concluded soon.
On negligence on mine health and safety and where or which companies were involved in mining fatalities, most occurred in Mpumalanga. Two mining companies had recorded the most recent fatalities, one of which was in North West and the second in Limpopo. The details were available but the DMR preferred to give the numbers and wanted to indicate which commodity recorded the most fatalities, in which case gold was the culprit. When one asked why that was so, one would be told that the gold mining method was the most risky in terms of exposure to possible injuries and fatalities.
Minister Zwane said the fact of the matter was that the MPRDA amendments had been tabled and processed in Parliament and then taken to the President, where the President had identified four problematic issues. Two were procedural and two were substantive and the Committee knew all of that. Beyond that process, there were ongoing engagements, one of which was whether DMR could separate oil and gas from mining minerals. That was not the issue holding up the MPRDA amendments, neither were pricing and other market related matters. DMR had engaged with all stakeholders and felt that there needed to be certainty first so that later on the separation of oil and gas from minerals could occur. He maintained that DMR had emphasised the need for the finalisation of the MPRDA Bill at the Government Lekgotla and had pleaded with the Presidency and even written to the Chairperson of this Committee to get a commitment from all members on the prioritisation of the MPRDA Bill.
The Minister said DMR had engaged labour unions, mining companies and the Ministry felt that where it could engage outside of court, then it would deal with issues like that as it did not believe its work was to be embroiled in court battles. Moreover the DMR was unable to comment on the merits of the court challenges.
Ms Mohale replied that the technical consultations on shale gas were ongoing work and that part of the responsibility of the game changer was ensuring that DMR took people on board and that the infrastructure was correct socially and environmentally. She reiterated that regulations had been published in 2015 already and applications had already started coming in and were being processed so that exploration could possibly start in 2016 still.
On satellite offices, Ms Mohale said that DMR would want to deliberate on the matter as it had already said that it was optimising its big structure as it was not assisting the Ministry going forward. The suggestions were well taken though.
Mr Lorimer asked if DMR was saying there could still be changes to the already published regulations as a result of the ongoing consultations and studies. Would the exploration that was being considered for 2016 include a go ahead to hydraulic fracturing as well?
Ms Mohale replied that the applications received would be processed based on the already published regulations. The other work in support of SA implementing the shale gas game changer would continue however, licensing would only apply to compliant applications. Hydraulic fracturing would be licensed in that regard and also include the transformation, social and community requirements.
The Chairperson pleaded with the Committee to exercise sensitivity on how it would be handling the presentation on the Lily Mine accident, specifically regarding the fact that there were still individuals underground. Also most tragic was that amongst those trapped workers was a mother to a five month old infant therefore he was pleading with members to tread lightly. DMR would also have to clarify the matter of an MHS official that had committed suicide.
Lily gold mine accident: DMR briefing
Dr Xolile Mbonambi, DMR Acting Chief Inspector, said that the period following the 5 February accident with the collapse of the crown pillar at Lily Mine had been difficult. It was a first that mine workers that operated a lamp room on the surface of a mine ended up being the ones trapped underground, yet those that had been underground had all been rescued. That was the difficulty and uniqueness of the challenge for ongoing rescue operations at the mine.
On 13 February there was a secondary collapse. The hole where rescue operations were taking place was compromised and those operations had to be moved to the ventilation shaft for mine entry and exit.
The Chairpersons of the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and the Select Committee on Land and Minerals had visited Lily Mine in the week of the 15 February to receive an update on progress made and to engage with the families of the trapped miners who had been at the mine since the 5 February. Several Members of the Executive Council (MECs) from Mpumalanga had also visited Lily Mine to provide support and the President had indicated that there was to be reinforcement of support for the mine and the families. Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women, Ms Susan Shabangu, and the Minister for Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, had also been to Lily Mine in support of the families, especially since the children of the three trapped miners were also observing the rescue operations.
Before the arrival of the rescue drill, the rescue operations had been hampered by the fact that it was difficult to determine at which level the container was situated though there was speculation and indication that it was between level 4 and 5. Mr Mbonambi said alternative rescue operations had included a gyro lab, which was a company that could detect metal underground. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had also pitched in with its AziSA protocol, an open protocol for data acquisition and communication in the mining industry.
The Chairperson reminded DMR about the outstanding question on what the standard practice was during mining injuries and fatalities and what the exceptions were.
Mr Lorimer said that possibly the biggest question on everyone’s mind was why the crown pillar had collapsed in the first place. He wanted background information on whether a mine inspector had signed off on the design of the Lily Mine. Was that a common practice? When last had the Lily Mine been inspected? Had the suicide of the Mine Health and Safety (MHS) officer become part of the investigation that DMR was conducting; assuming there was an ongoing investigation as the suicide would seem to imply some sort of culpability?
Adv Schmidt said that if drilling started on the 20 February and took two to three weeks to complete; that would mean failing to create that secondary escape route, so no rescue operations would continue. Was that a fair summation? The concern was that two to three weeks was too long a period for trapped people to be waiting for an escape route. Was there no alternative rescue operation?
Mr Mandela said that President Jacob Zuma had in his SONA appealed to the nation to keep the families of the trapped miners in their prayers, and as a member of the Committee he was on record as well keeping the families affected in his prayers and therefore was asking if DMR was doing everything possible in seeking to rescue those miners? What impact had that accident had on the other mine workers; would the mine be able to continue with operations at the conclusion of the current episode? Was the incident likely to result in job losses? Was the mine still profitably viable?
Mr Mbonambi replied that in terms of mine design and the involvement of the MHSI; the MHSI was not directly involved in the designing of the mine as that was done by consultants. However, the MHSI would then assess whether the mining would ensure health and safety of miners.
Minister Zwane remarked that Lily Mine had historically been used for illegal mining whereupon one of his predecessors had intervened and engaged in a process to legalise the mining operations there. He had been informed about these actions even by his most recent predecessor. The matter of it taking two to three weeks for drilling operations was not a random decision by the mine or DMR but a result of repeated rock falls where all the parties had agreed it was no longer safe to go on with the rescue operation. The rock experts who had been called in to certify the stability and safety of continued operations had reported that the formation seemed stable enough for operation to continue. However, the regulations were that one could not send anybody underground without there being an alternative escape route. Moreover if one was to physically visit Lily Mine, members would find that the ventilation shaft that had been used to rescue the 75 underground miners was less than one metre wide. There was also small rock falls that were ongoing whilst operations were continuing, especially near the ventilation shaft. The view was that should there be fatalities of rescue workers, DMR would be deemed reckless and careless as it was evident that the shaft could give in at anytime. The consensus, over and above the alternatives that Mr Mbonambi had noted, was that a secondary escape route had to be drilled away from the epicentre of the collapse. That was the most logical and fastest rescue route.
The Joint Operations Committee (JOC) had set-up a task team that was supporting the families of the trapped miners and the rescued 75 miners psychologically and socially. The affected families had since 5 February 2016 camped at the mine. Most painful was the fact that other children at school were taunting the affected children with slurs such as ‘your parents are underground’. Those children would leave school during school hours to be at the mine therefore the task team had to counsel the school and the broader community on the sensitivity of the situation especially for the children of the trapped miners.
On the future of the mine and job security for current miners at the Lily Mine, the CEO had indicated that miners would be paid their full wages for February as the collapse had not been of their doing. The management had also indicated that it wanted to continue mining going forward as it believed there were prospects. Essentially Lily Mine had presented to DMR late in 2015 that it was interested in extending the mine. However, DMR was of the view that though job security and employment were important, Lily Mine would not be opened for operations until the Ministry was satisfied that it was safe. The future of Lily Mine rested upon the state it would be in, after the rescue operations were concluded.
The Chairperson reiterated that the first priority in being sensitive about the Lily Mine accident had to be the rescue of the trapped miners before deliberating on job security and all other sundry matters. There would be no certain answers that would address to the satisfaction of the Committee members’ concerns. There were outstanding issues that needed commitments from the DMR, one of which was the perishing of 435 workers underground during the 70’s together with 1000 graves that had been found at Evander.
The Committee had instructed DMR to investigate what had happened to those individuals and to commit that regardless of the Government of the day; deceased miners in underground tombs had to be recovered for repatriation to their families for reburial.
The Chairperson informed the Committee that the management of Lily Mine had denied that the MHS officer who had committed suicide had been an employee with the mine.
The Chairperson said that the Minister had overlooked the fact that the Lily Mine umbrella company was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. That however, would not be of any use during the unfolding of events at Lily Mine.
Mr Lorimer interjected that his question on when last DMR MHS inspectors visited Lily Mine was still unanswered.
Minister Zwane replied that Lily Mine was last visited by an MHS inspector on the 12 January 2016. The Minister pleaded that although he understood this was a burning issue, there were families that were going through a lot of heartache. Could the Committee please be sensitive as families were waiting for their loved ones to be returned to them. He said that whatever information the Committee deemed outstanding would be supplied speedily. However, the surfacing and retrieval of that container was just as important if not more so in the interim. DMR was certain it could retrieve that container.
Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment (MPRDA) Bill [B15B-2013]
The Chairperson said that a legal opinion had been obtained which recommended that:
The parliamentary legal advisors are not aware of any legal challenges on why a decision on the matter had not been taken. It was perhaps advisable for the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee to directly enquire from the Office of the Speaker as to the findings of the Joint Tagging Mechanism (JTM).
The Chairperson said his office had already acted on the recommendation by asking for a meeting with the Speaker and she had agreed to meet with the Chairperson. He had spoken with other committee chairpersons who told him that they had Bills that had been in waiting for more than two years. Moreover, initially the MPRDA Bill had been tagged as a Section 75 Bill by the State Law Advisors but this had been changed to a Section 76 Bill by the Joint Tagging Mechanism. Challenges would be with the fact that it had been changed to a Section 76 Bill.
The most salient point was that when amendments are made to a Amendment Bill, the process of fast tracking had to be done carefully so that there is no mixing of amendments of an Act as if there never been an Act before. The MPRDA was in operation. What was uncertain were the amendments to the existing piece of legislation.
Adv Schmidt asked for a copy of the legal opinion to be sent to all Members and this was agreed to.
The minutes of 3 February 2016 were adopted without amendments.
Ms V Nyambi (ANC) requested a briefing on what had happened at the Chief Whips Forum about the concern about Members that are continually absent.
The Chairperson said that the matter of continued absence of certain members was a matter for the Chief Whips Forum and not the Committee. The chief whips would raise that matter9in that forum for the attention of the chief whip whose party member is continually absent from committee meetings.
The meeting was then adjourned.
- We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting
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