Harmony Gold took action to tackle illegal mining at its Kusasalethu mine after a third fire occurrence in October shutting down the mine for weeks, CEO Graham Briggs announced on Friday.
“The risk of yet another underground fire is a risk that we are not prepared to take and therefore we are reverting to this temporary mine closure”, says Graham Briggs.
No production will occur during this period and employees were to be sent on leave.
Harmony will lose about R112m in closing Kusasalethu located near Carletonville in Western Gauteng over the next weeks as it seeks to remove illegal miners from one of its key operations.
The fire occurrence on 30 October was the third fire reported in one month and believed to have been caused by illegal miners.
Established surveillance mechanisms alerted mine management to the fire, and standard evacuation procedures meant that all employees who were underground at the time were brought safely to surface.
“Kusasalethu’s production has not reached planned levels and these ongoing incidents of sabotage further undermine the mine’s sustainability,” Briggs said.
During October, 105 illegal miners were arrested and about 25 employees were subject to disciplinary action.
Although illegal mining is more common at abandoned and near-surface mines, it is still rife in deep level underground mines where trespassers illegally enter the mines with the intent of mining and removing gold or copper bearing material.
According to Harmony, these activities pose a threat not only to the illegal miners’ own health and safety, but also to the safety of employees.
“Very often these activities result in damage to property and mining equipment and disruption to operations as a result of negligence, sabotage, theft and vandalism. The activities of illegal miners can also cause pollution, underground fires and deplete mineral deposits, potentially making the future mining of such deposits uneconomical,” noted the company in a statement.
Aiding illegal miners
“Illegal mining is a threat to employees’ safety and health and to the mine’s continued viability”, commented Briggs following the incident.
While some workers have been threatened by illegal miners, other are believed to be aiding these groups through access to workings, equipment and food and water.
Harmony stated that it is adopting an uncompromising stance towards these activities and is working with organised labour and the regulatory authorities to do so.