Lily Mine Families' Lives Matter!

Last Thursday 8 April 2021’s detestable burning and destruction of the camping settlement outside Lily Mine where the families of Pretty Nkambule, Solomon Nyerende, and Yvonne Mnisi have been living since 30 April 2019 because they seek justice for their children have sent excruciating shivers down my spine.

I was horrified when Harry Mazibuko, official spokesperson for the Lily Mine families informed me and sent photograph and video images of the now decimated settlement.

Harry, who is now in temporary hiding for his involvement with the families against Mike McChesney and Lily Mine Management fears for his life.

An article I read last June titled “Black Lives Matter: Which Black Lives? by UCT Film and Media Studies Professor, Adam Haupt got me thinking. Truly, which Black Lives Matter? What are the criteria for prioritisation? How does a matter qualify for public scrutiny and global outrage? Who is responsible for bringing an outrageously unjust set of events to local and global attention? What happens to those who never capture the attention of the media and the world because they are simply not sensational enough? Who decides?

In the article, Haupt argues that while the world should be livid at the senseless, overtly racially motivated killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on 25 May last year, there are also similar events across the globe that warrant our attention, particularly here closer to home in South Africa.

Recently, the South African public found out that the killers of Mthokozisi Ntumba, a young man found with three fatal bullets wounds at the hands of police while university students were protesting outside Wits University in Johannesburg earlier this year, drove away without offering him any assistance.

Just last week on 5 April 2021, Jostina Sangweni, a 59-year-old woman died after being burned alive by a mob accusing her of witchcraft.

In the case of the 2016 Lily Mine tragedy where three young miners fell to their deaths after a container was swallowed 70 metres underground

and 5 years later their bodies are still trapped in the container while their families and children suffer undue emotional harm without having buried them with dignity so they can all find closure.

The more I think about the Lily Mine tragedy, the more I feel even more betrayed by our government for allowing this to happen.

The Department of Minerals Resources and Energy report of 2017 found that the management of Lily Mine was culpable for the collapse. And that despite prior smaller collapses, which were not reported as required in law, mining continued without the necessary safety measures recommended by rock and engineering specialists.

As a matter of fact, the report found that mine management continued to issue instructions for mining to continue around the structural pillars holding up the mine, leading directly to the collapse on 5 February 2016.

Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyerende, along with the other former miners, knew the risks of their work but they would have never imagined being buried alive by what has been found to be the criminally negligent greed of mine management.

5 years prior, the San Jose mine-collapse in Chile captured the imagination of the world. Miners were trapped 700m underground and a mine rescue operation lasting 69 days. The Chilean President, much of his cabinet and the international community, including our very own South African Mine Rescue Services camped outside the mine lending their support to the eventual rescue of these miners.

Instead, the Lily Mine rescue operation that had been initiated, was subsequently called on 3 March 2016, only 30 days after the collapse, never to be reinitiated.

Now, after 5 years of asking, petitioning, and pleading for the support of the South African government, the former miners, and families at Lily Mine continue to be treated with disdain.

Furthermore, despite the findings of the DMRE report, their effort to open a criminal case against mine management have been resisted.

When the families decided to camp outside the mine to retrieve the container themselves, a court order was obtained and enforced by heavily armed policemen to keep them away from the mine.

However, the same policemen did not seem as concerned by the recent burning and decimation of the families’ protest settlement intended to intimidate them into giving up and shutting up.

And yet, the families remain resolute and have vowed never to abandon their struggle against our own government for justice.

It is now a matter of public record that the South African government is equally resolute in ignoring the Lily Mine families’ pleas.

This a government that swore to uphold the rights of our citizens and to especially be the vanguard of justice and protection of vulnerable communities.

Despite revelations that no scientific evidence that the container is irretrievable, nothing tangible is being done to hold mine management accountable for the deaths of the three miners, because without their bodies, a criminal case is unlikely to lead to successful prosecution.

What this means is that the decision to deem the container irretrievable, while no doubt based on something, was not based on a professional assessment of the mine.

What this means is that the costs of retrieving the container, which have been bandied around, have been based on propaganda to support the case that retrieval is impossible.

What it means is that these former miners, their families, members of the media, our parliament, and the South African people, have been subjected to one of the most elaborate lies in the history of our country.

I now posit that we take this matter and elevate it to global platforms and fight for the Lily mine families’ right to justice because like all Black Lives, they Matter too!