19 die at BCL in five years

SHARE   |   Monday, 06 June 2016   |   By Phillimon Mmeso
Mahupela Mahupela

The recent horrific accident that claimed four lives at the trouble ridden state-owned copper mine of BCL is said to have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back with Government livid at the poor performance of the management. The Patriot on Sunday has it on good authority that the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Kitso Mokaila, will soon call on the BCL executive led by Managing Director Dan Mahupela to announce government decision. In the past Mokaila has informed Parliament that he is not happy with the way BCL management was running the financially troubled copper nickel mine and it is said that some cabinet ministers felt that Mahupela should be given another chance to prove himself. Mahupela has been under immense pressure to turn around the copper mine which also owns the Tati Nickel Mine in Francistown amid the low metal prices. Preliminary reports on the accident that claimed four lives is said to have shown that there was gross negligence on the part of the management. It has been shown that management was aware that most machines at the South East Extension were old and needed replacement.

The General Mine Transport (GMT) operators are said to have constantly informed their supervisors that it is not in good condition and need replacement but were informed that the mine was still financially struggling. One of the deceased, who was operating the cage earlier Botsanang Maphane had alerted supervisor about the mechanical faults of the machine and was informed to accompany others on it to ascertain that it is not working. He didn’t live to give his report as he died along the SHE Inspector who was also part of the team in the crush. The same sentiments were echoed when Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi visited the mine recently to console the workers on the loss of their fellow colleagues. They accused Mahupela of failing to address them on issues affecting the mine and informed Masisi that the General Manager has failed to visit the families of all the miners who died since 2014. When one miner Bohiwamang Magowe was crushed to death by a stone in the mine in 2014, it is alleged that Mahupela failed to go underground to access what happened. The family of Magowe refused the P10 000 cheque that BCL gave them for the funeral until the then Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe intervened and the family was given P15, 000.

In their defence at that time BCL reasoned that Magowe was a casual worker who didn’t have any formal contract with the mine. The litany of accusation against Mahupela and his Exco is said to have convinced government that a new management was needed to run the copper mining company. In his recent visit to the Vice President Masisi is said to have seen the level at which the management has neglected the welfare of the miners. Masisi informed the employees that government will appoint external investigators to establish what could have led to the accident and if there was any negligence from the management. The accident put the number of causalities at BCL at 19 in the last five years, something which is worrying government which is the sole owner of the mine.

Chronology of events leading to the horrific accident

January-December 2015
A total of seven fatal accidents and 89 lost time injuries were recorded between January and December 2015. In February last year two employees died after a blast went wrong and in July three employees lost their lives following the fall of a rock at Selibe Shaft.

May 10, 2016
Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) meets Minister of Minerals Energy and Water Resources Mokaila to present their grievances over the deteriorating working conditions at the mine. On top of their list is the poor safety standard at the mine.  Mokaila promises to respond to their grievances in two months’ time.

May 21
Operators of the GMT alert SHE officers that it is not working properly and that it occasionally jams. They fear it might snap; they are promised that it will be attended to.

May 30
The GMT jams when transporting the morning shift at the SEE shaft and again is reported to the relevant authorities. Gaseitiswe Selelo – a Safety, Health, and Environment (SHE) inspector and cage tender commonly known as the operator, Botsanang Maphane join other eight miners in the GMT to ascertain that indeed what the miners and operators are complaining about is true. Maphane had earlier operated the dysfunctional GMT and is the one who alerted the supervisors about its problems.

2100 hours
The GMT starts to experience some technical problems as it transport the miners from underground from 1.5 metres (1.5 kilometres) and the cage rope snaps and crashes to the shaft bottom killing four miners including the SHE inspector and cage tender instantly and injuring six.

May 30
Acting Minister of Minerals Energy and Water Resources Nonofho Molefhi visits the mine and promises that government will not leave any stone unturned in their investigations on the cause of the accident.

May 31
A high powered delegation led by Vice President Masisi visits the mine and addresses both management and employees. He informs the miners that government has appointed private investigators to investigate on the cause of the accident. He says government will establish if management is competent enough and come up with a way forward. Masisi reveals that they will monitor the implementation of the recommendations after the audit is complete.

June 2
Masisi goes back to Phikwe this time accompanied by the Minister in the office of the President Eric Molale for the memorial service.

Inside a GMT/Cage
After it was announced that four miners crashed while on a General Mine Transport (GMT) commonly called catch by the miners, I was in a state of shock recalling the times that I have been part of a media tour at the mine. My last tour was last year where we also went underground using the GMT and the thought of it crashing always crept into my mind, creating a sense of concealed fear in me.  I have been on all the shafts at the mine even the one that claimed the lives of four miners in 2011. Getting into the cage is one of the things I have never get used to when visiting the mine because it is noisy and is always dripping of water while inside. Apart from being noisy, it is also very hot inside the cage making one to sweat and think of his redeemer (maker). GMT is a cage made of metals and when inside you have to face each other as it takes you down or up. It is very noisy inside. Unlike the lifts that we are accustomed to, the GMT is controlled an operator who opens and closes it. When you go into this cage it is almost like signing away your life to the machine; in fact you sign an indemnity form. People going in are supposed to be free of alcohol – a breathalyser is used to ensure that all inside are sober.