Rand Uranium, a gold and uranium mining company created in December 2008 from former Harmony assets, banned food being taken underground to cut illicit supply lines to illegal miners.
Soon after the ban, large numbers of illegal miners were arrested attempting to leave the mine.
Trade union Solidarity declared a dispute against the Chamber of Mines over Harmony’s the underground food ban in February. The union cited a 2009 agreement in a wage settlement, that workers were each entitled to take up to 500 grams of food and two liters of liquid underground.
Harmony still allows workers to take drinking water down. “Harmony’s decision has a serious effect on workers’ health and safety,” said Paul Mardon, the union’s head of occupational health and safety.
High heat levels underground cause a rapid decline in sugar, electrolyte and hydration levels of workers. Solidarity threatened obtaining a court order.
Food supplements and meal replacement powders are popular on some mines, but are also easy for zama zama syndicates to smuggle on site, and runners to conceal and sell to illegal miners, some of whom stay underground for several months.
Illegal mining has shown a dramatic increase following the global economic downturn. Gold is seen as a safe haven for investors.
Thousands of kilometres of interlinked, unused mine shafts offer easy access to ore. Security guards and legal mineworkers can be bribed to smuggle people and food in and out of many shafts, Solidarity said in an earlier statement.
“It is relatively easy to identify, mine, extract, and sell. Zama-zamas, as illegal miners are named, cause security and safety problems, as well as losses amounting to billions per year.”
The value of the loss of life in the illegal mining ‘industry’ is impossible to calculate. By mid year, more illegal miners had died in a single incident at Harmony’s Elandsrand mine, than on all legal mines in the same period.
“We are determined to fight and ensure that illicit mining comes to an end,” said Mining Minister Susan Shabangu. “Illegal mining activities undermine efforts to create safe and healthy mining conditions,” said the Chamber of Mines.
Zama incidents involve equipment theft, safety equipment damage, increased security costs, disruption of operations, intimidation, attack, assault, structural damage, as well as interference with electrical installations, water and compressed air stock.
A task team of relevant authorities started probing the matter last year. Already on 17 June 2009, it was decided that incidents of illegal mining must be reported to the Mining Department.
PHOTO CAPTION; Packaging of one of the types of food supplements or meal replacements popular on some mines. The sealed sachets are easy to carry and to use.