Boomberg writes that after more than two decades of improving mine safety since the end of apartheid, South Africa’s progress has stalled with an increase in gold-mining deaths.
While annual death tolls are far lower than the 615 recorded in 1993, 2017 witnessed the first rise in 10 years. More than 50 people have died in the country’s mines in 2018, roughly the same number as this time last year.
Most of the gold mining fatalities are due to workers being crushed under falling rocks, caused by more frequent tremors as companies dig deeper for the precious metal. The government is investigating Sibanye Gold’s operations, where over half the gold mining deaths occurred this year.
“When you wake up in the morning you think, will I come back dead or alive?” observed Sivelly Mangola, a 40-year-old rock drill operator at Sibanye’s Driefontein mine who was once trapped for 30 minutes by a rockfall.
The death toll is the bleakest possible illustration of the human cost to mining in SA, where nine-hour shifts drilling narrow seams miles underground are a daily ordeal for many thousands. It also raises questions about the long-term viability of an industry that underpinned the economy for decades, but faces competition from cheaper, shallower mines from Ghana to Canada.