Lily Mine: 5 Years Later and Closing in On Justice

Today, 5 February 2021, marks the particularly sad occasion of 5 years since the collapse of Lily Mine in Mpumalanga.

Yet, despite this sadness, hope remains that the container will be retrieved and proper burials afforded to the 3 trapped miners.

ActionSA’s legal team has established that the Business Rescue Process (BRP) who’s practitioner is in possession of 2 bids for the mine, deemed acceptable to creditors. Critically, from our perspective, both bids commit to the retrieval of the container, and to pay wages owed to the former miners within 60 days of the agreement.

Despite this the BRP practitioner continues to delay the necessary publishing of the amended BRP plan which would finalise the process and effectively initiate the retrieval of the container.

At this point it is worth noting that the BRP practitioner was nominated by Vantage Goldfields, and specifically by Mike McChesney given that this was an elective business rescue process.

Despite a court order in 2019 for the process to be concluded in 10 days, it remains incomplete. ActionSA can only deduce that the continued delay of this process and the retrieval of the container plays directly into the interests of those who would be criminally charged upon the retrieval of the bodies of the former miners.

This is why ActionSA can announce that we are in talks with one of the bidders for the mine about a joint legal action to hold the BRP practitioner in contempt of court, thereby compelling them to finalise the process. We believe that this sad occasion can only be given hope by the announcement of strong legal action.

At 08:08 on 5 February 2016, the main supporting structures at the entrance of Lily Mine collapsed entombing a container with the souls of Pretty Nkambule, Solomon Nyirenda, and Yvonne Mnisi.

Years later it would be revealed that the collapse was a direct result of the criminal negligence of mine management, ignoring basic safety requirements in legislation, and directing mining to continue under the support columns.

In 5 years, the former miners and families have approached every level of government.

Politicians have come and gone on every occasion their promises fading with their presence.

ActionSA, having provided the legal representation required for the former miners and families, has established that:

  1. The claim by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) that the container was irretrievable was made without any scientific basis. This is substantiated by the fact that bidding companies have committed to retrieve the container.
  2. The decision to suspend the rescue operation was made 8 days after the collapse in the presence of mine management who were later found to be culpable.
  3. The NPA will now finally commit itself to proceedings that will lead to the potential criminal prosecution of mine management following the private prosecution launched by ActionSA.

ActionSA is confident that our legal effort will bring finality to the matter of the retrieval of the container, through the BRP avenue, which will produce the fastest outcome for the former miners and families.

Critically, however, ActionSA must now consider what approach it takes to government for its fundamental failure to fulfil its obligations. Our own South African Mine Rescue Services was sent to Chile to assist in the rescue of 33 miners who were trapped 700m underground for 69 days. This operation included the President of Chile, much of his cabinet and the international community.

Despite this, our own government has failed to lift a finger for the former miners and families at Lily Mine.

  1. The DMR has deceived the country with its false claim of the retrievability of the container. 
  2. The SAPS and NPA have failed to proceed with the criminal charges recommended by the 2018 DMR report.
  3. The Department of Labour and DMR have ignored their obligations to the trapped miners which are required in the event of the collapse of any mine.

ActionSA believes that a full investigation must be initiated to determine why our government has systematically denied the former miners and families due justice and dignity.

We mark this solemn occasion by sharing our sorrow for the pain that continues to be felt by the families of Pretty Nkambule, Solomon Nyirenda and Yvonne Mnisi. However, we recommit ourselves to ensuring that the container is ultimately retrieved, wages due are paid, and that those responsible for this tragedy are brought to justice.