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Sibanye-Stillwater’s mining death toll rises

JSE and New York-listed Sibanye-Stillwater started the year on the back foot as union Solitary yesterday called for Driefontein mine to be closed after the death of a miner and called the mining company out for its poor safety record.

The death was reported on Wednesday following 18 employees dying at its mines last year due to various incidents.

“Solidarity believes that the inspectors from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy should reconsider closing the entire mine until the mining house can prove that it is safe to work in their mines,” it said.

Gideon du Plessis, Solidarity’s General Secretary, said in a statement: “The fact that the company ended the previous year with a poor mining safety record and already reported the first fatal accident for 2022 in the first month of the year is reason enough for drastic intervention.”

Sibanye-Stillwater’s Masakhane mine in Driefontein. Solidarity is calling for the mine’s closure after athe death of a miner. Photo: Matthews Baloi/ANA

He said the union was also extremely concerned about people’s lives and livelihoods, which were threatened due to a slime dam at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Beatrix mine in Welkom’s no. 1 shaft that showed weak spots and whose embankment could break if it was not urgently repaired.

Sibanye Public Relations head James Wellsted said: “It’s tragic what happened at Driefontein mine. If we have to take the step of closing the mine we will. We are investigating with the stakeholders that include Solidarity. We’ll take whatever necessary actions to prevent this. It’s a terrible way to start the year.

The union’s call came as Sibanye-Stillwater yesterday provided an operational update post-December, saying that operations at Kloof 1 had resumed with a gradual start-up of production activities this month after it closed the shaft to implement extensive safety audits and corrective measures in December.

The precious metal producer closed four shafts after several fatal accidents. Four mineworkers died in two separate incidents at Sibanye-Stillwater operations in North West and Free State, and in another occurrence, a mineworker died at Sibanye’s Khuseleka shaft in Rustenburg, North West.

The group, which operates underground gold mines and platinum operations, yesterday said working at the Beatrix 1 and 3 shafts have not yet been recommenced due to audits and engagements with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy continue.

“It is anticipated that production from the Beatrix operation will resume towards the end of January 2022,” the mining company said.

A limited portion of the Beatrix Tailing Storage Facility requires precautionary reinforcement and buttressing work, and a decision to cease deposition while this work is being completed has been taken, the mining company said.

“It is expected that this work will be completed by April 2022.

“Underground mining activities will continue during this time, and stockpiled ore will be processed over the remainder of 2022, once the TSF remediation has been completed,” Sibanye said.

Sibanye said closing the shafts was an intervention to reinforce the group’s priority of safe production to ensure the safety of more than 8000 employees, which included contractors.

“Our primary objective is to continuously reduce operational risk, and the company will not hesitate to halt operations should elevated risk require appropriate remedial action,” Sibanye said.

The company said despite the operational stoppages, production from all group operating segments remained within annual guidance.

It reported that their South African gold production for 2021 was 27 747 kilograms, compared with its lower-end estimate of 27 500 kilograms, and second-half production was 7 percent higher than the first half.

Meanwhile, the mining company might be facing a wage strike as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA) issued a strike certificate to unions after wage negations collapsed late last year.

The certificate permits the unions, which include the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Solidarity, and Uasa, to embark on a strike at Sibanye’s South African gold operations in Gauteng and the Free State and the company to implement a lockout within a 12-month period from issuance.

Sibanye said it would announce its financial results for the six months to December 2021 on February 17.

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