Two arrested, one dead as heavily armed zama-zamas loot Lily Mine | Fin24
 
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Two arrested, one dead as heavily armed zama-zamas loot Lily Mine

Jul 15 2018 06:09
Sizwe Sama Yende

Illegal miners, commonly known as zama-zamas, have been looting gold from Mpumalanga’s mothballed Lily Mine, but police are on their tracks.Mpumalanga police arrested two suspected illegal miners – Mhlengi Mchunu (35) and Thokozani Masilela (29) – when they embarked on a clean-out operation last weekend.

One illegal miner was shot dead.

The arrested suspects were Mhlengi Mchunu (35) and Thokozani Masilela (29). 

Lily and its sister mine Barbrook have been under business rescue since 2016 when they were shut down after a shaft at Lily Mine collapsed, burying three workers underground.

The Vantage Goldfields mine is now under new majority shareholders.

Sikhula Sonke Empowerment Corporation (SSC) Group secured a R190-million loan from the Industrial Development Corporation and bought a 74% stake in Vantage Goldfields SA.

Although the Barbrook creditors committee is trying to get the mine liquidated, SSC has been laying the ground to reopen the mine. In total, R310 million is needed to reopen Lily Mine.

SSC CEO Fred Arendse said the infiltration by illegal miners was worrying. “We’re worried and concerned but this is a challenge facing all the neighbouring mines in the Barberton area. We’re working closely with the police.”

Barbrook creditors’ committee chairperson Dwaine Koch said the committee had raised concern about illegal miners with business rescue practitioner Rob Devereux, but he ignored them.

“This proves that the business rescue practitioner is not in control of the assets. He must be held responsible. We’ve requested security reports from him and he has refused,” Koch said.

Devereux said he understood the zama-zamas were operating at the top of the mine, not where mining was going to take place. He said the mine’s assets were safe.

“The problem is that police and other mines are clamping down on illegal miners and they saw an opportunity at Lily Mine,” said Devereux.

“Our information is that they were not mining the pillars [which hold the roof], but a vein rich in ore. We moved in immediately to deal with this problem,” he said.

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said the mine’s security guards informed police that the zama-zamas carried AK-47 rifles when they freed one of their own.

“We’re concerned that we’ve not found the AK-47s but other kinds of rifles. The operation continues at Lily Mine and other parts of the province such as in Evander where we arrested 113 illegal miners last month,” Hlathi said.

Inquiry completed

Meanwhile, the mineral resources department has completed its inquiry into the Lily Mine accident, but its report has not been released.

Lawyers representing the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) argued that Lily Mine’s management could have avoided the accident if they had not ignored a rock mechanic’s advice.

Amcu’s lawyer, Richard Spoor, argued that the mine did not take rock mechanic Rudi Kersten’s advice to maintain a rock (centre) pillar below the crown pillar (roof of a shaft) to provide additional support and deviated from the original design of the mine to move the entrance away from above the crown pillar.

When the mine collapsed, a lamp office with three workers – Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyerende – sank underground. The workers’ bodies were never retrieved but 76 workers who were already inside the shaft were rescued.

Arendse said SSC bought a stake, aware of the pending mineral resources department report, which might impose a fine or criminal prosecution should it find that the mine’s management was at fault.

“The report will be retrospective. We can’t be held accountable for those accidents because we had no legal appointment by then,” Arendse said.

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