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SAPS, DMRE and Lily Mine ‘all contributed to deaths’ in horror 2016 Mpumalanga collapse

SAPS, DMRE and Lily Mine ‘all contributed to deaths’ in horror 2016 Mpumalanga collapse
The sinkhole and abandoned buildings at Lily Mine in Mpumalanga on 1 March 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

An inquest into the deaths of mineworkers Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyirenda found that they probably died on the day the ground collapsed under a container at Lily Mine.

The Mbombela Magistrates’ Court ruled on Thursday that the failure of the owners of Lily Mine to conduct proper assessments as required by law contributed to the deaths of three miners who were trapped in a container which was covered by rocks and debris after the ground collapsed under it on 5 February 2016.

The judgment in the inquest into the deaths of Pretty Nkambule (22) Yvonne Mnisi (30) and Solomon Nyirenda (37) was read out by Magistrate Annemarie van der Merwe on Thursday.

She further ruled that the failure of the police and Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to combat rampant illegal mining in the area also contributed to the fatal 2016 collapse.

Lily Mine: Prayers, pain and hope mark mothers’ two-year vigil for their dead children

Van der Merwe underlined that the state institutions failed in their constitutional duty to protect the republic’s inhabitants and “to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations”.

“It is clear from the evidence presented in court that the institutions of the SAPS and DMRE were, at the time of the Lily Mine disaster, merely giving lip service to the issue of illegal mining and that they were not effectively addressing the issue,” Van der Merwe found.

On 5 February 2016, Lily Mine reported that more than 70 mineworkers were trapped underground after a mineshaft collapsed. All were rescued, except for Pretty Nkambule (22), Yvonne Mnisi (30) and Solomon Nyirenda (37). The three were in a container above ground that plunged into a sinkhole, trapping them underground. Rescue efforts continued for days, but proved futile.

Although their bodies have never been recovered, the court found that the evidence presented in court proved beyond reasonable doubt that the three workers had indeed died.

Seven years later, the mothers of the trio, Fiona Nyirenda, Lomvimbo Mavuso and Rose Mkabi, are still seeking closure. They live their lives in pain, prayer and hope as they wait for the mine to be reopened and for the container to be retrieved so they can lay their loved ones to rest.

Possible prosecution

According to Mpumalanga National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) regional spokesperson Monica Nyuswa, the court concluded that the three mineworkers died on 5 February 2016, based on the available evidence presented before it.

“The court found that the cause of the death was the collapse of the container which was covered by rocks and debris. It further found that the deaths were brought about by the omission of the mine owners to do proper assessment as required by the Mine Health and Safety Act,” she said.

The findings will now be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions for the possible instituting of criminal proceedings.

“The NPA notes the findings of the judgment, and an informed decision will be made after carefully studying the matter,” Nyuswa said.

ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba has been at the forefront of calls for justice for the families of those who lost their lives at Lily Mine.

“The family of Solomon Nyirenda, Pretty Nkambule and Yvonne Mnisi are pleased with the judgment of the Mbombela Magistrates’ Court,” a party statement said.

“After seven years, ActionSA and the families are vindicated because today we know how they died, why they died and we understand who was responsible for their deaths.”

“The court found that Pretty, Solomon and Yvonne died immediately and there was no long period of suffering.”

Business rescue

Meanwhile, on 17 October, the Constitutional Court refused to grant Lily Mine’s owner, Vantage Goldfields, leave to appeal against a ruling allowing the business rescue practitioners to proceed with their plan.

Mining investment company Arqomanzi and its empowerment partner, Siyakhula Sonke Corporation, who were Lily Mine creditors, welcomed the apex court’s decision.

“The ConCourt ruling has also brought closure to this matter, paving the way for the business recovery plan and its amendments to be submitted to creditors for consultation and approval. This, in turn, sets the ground for the resumption of operations at Lily Mine, bringing the miners’ families one step closer to the long-awaited return of their loved ones,” said the companies.

Following the Constitutional Court judgment, ActionSA said, “ActionSA believes the Constitutional Court’s refusal is a victory for the families and will finally help bring closure to the families of the three miners who have been repeatedly let down.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    The Business Rescue Practitioner has already submitted a plan to the creditors which has been approved. After the fact, Aquamanzi has been attempting to have a new set of plans approved which gets them control of the mines. The Companies Act does not allow for this. Their action has delayed implementation for years, at great cost to the employees, their families and the communities.

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