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Tue Jul 29 06:39:19 SAST 2014

Deserted mines a flaring death trap

SIPHO MASONDO and JUDY LELLIOT | 11 January, 2010 22:580 Comments

At least four people have been killed in recent years and many others are falling victim to abandoned and unrehabilitated mines in the Witbank area.

In two incidents at the abandoned Coronation Colliery, near the Mpumalanga town, two Mozambicans were killed while digging for coal at the Likazi informal settlement.

The shantytown is built on top of the colliery.

Violet Khunou, an elderly resident who saw the deaths, said: "One man died last year; he was looking for coal. He sank in one of the holes. Those who were with him alerted community members. When they retrieved him he was dead."

Six years ago, Kenneth Thobejane, 10, of Likazi, and a friend were buried under a heap of coal in an abandoned dump. The boys and their mothers were digging for coal for cooking because the area they live in had no electricity.

Kenneth's father, Jan, said his son and his friend, also 10, were playing in the holes which collapsed, burying and killing both of them.

"They called me at work and when I arrived there they had died. During election time, when the government wants votes, politicians come here making all sorts of promises. I am not happy . We lost our children." The Transvaal and Delagoa Bay Colliery, abandoned in the 1950s, is surrounded by the townships of Vosman, Hlalanokahle, KwaGuqa and Ackerville.

David Ndlovu, from KwaGuqa, is one of the many who have fallen victim to the deserted mines. In 1999, he was walking to work along one of many footpaths which criss-cross the mine when a sink-hole collapsed beneath him.

As he sank into the ground, he was badly burned, up to his waist, by the coal which has been burning underground since the mine was decommissioned in the 1950s.

He was rescued by passers-by and fought for his life in the Witbank Hospital. He narrowly avoided having both legs amputated.

"Had it not been for a tree in the hole I would have died, " Ndlovu told The Times.

"I lost my job. I was disabled and they placed me on a redundancy list and they retrenched me."

Emalahleni municipal spokesman Lebo Mofokeng said there were many unreported instances of people being killed or being injured on the town's abandoned mines.

"I can confirm that there are areas that are still burning," he said.

The municipality has plans to move people out of the Likazi informal settlement, but it was a "work in progress", he said.

Environmental activist Matthews Hlabane said the Transvaal and Delagoa Bay, Middelburg Steam Mine, Station, MNS, Coronation and Witbank collieries were some of the country's most lethal.

The Times arrived at the Transvaal and Delagoa Bay Colliery to find three children swimming in hot and sulphurous polluted ponds.

"The [acidity] is almost equivalent to that of battery acid.

"The temperature is near that of hot bath water," Hlabane said.

"There is not even a small attempt to treat the water."

A plant that the department of water affairs built to treat the water seeping from the mine before it flows into the Brugspruit and then the Olifants river was not functioning.

On the same mine, The Times saw dozens of sinkholes along footpaths people use daily.

Some of the sinkholes were fresh, releasing thick and hot sulphurous smoke from the burning, abandoned pits below.

Likazi resident Kedibone Makgata told The Times that many children had fallen into sinkholes in the area and had been burned by the coal.

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Deserted mines a flaring death trap

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