South Africa's Mine Deaths Fall to Lowest on Record in 2015

  • 77 people died in 2015, compared with 84 the previous year
  • Fatalities on a steady decline since apartheid ended in 1994

South Africa had its lowest number of mining fatalities in its history in 2015 as companies improved safety measures and the government increased inspections.

Last year, 77 people died in the country’s mines, 8 percent fewer than in 2014, and a fraction of the annual average of about 800 deaths annually in the two decades to 1994, the Department of Mineral Resources said in a statement Thursday.

“Although we have reduced fatalities, our aim is to get to an ultimate goal of zero harm,” Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane told reporters in Pretoria. “Going through the measures and systems that have been put in place, my view is we’re in the right direction.”

While South Africa, the world’s biggest producer of platinum and sixth-largest of gold, has seen a steady drop in fatalities since the end of apartheid, or whites-only, rule in 1994, the country’s mines are still among the world’s most dangerous. Due to deep shafts and declining ore grades, operators still rely on old mining methods such as hand drilling and vast numbers of employees.

Injuries Increase

Zwane rejected the notion that the figures have improved because the number of mining employees has fallen over the last year. The country now has 0.09 deaths per million hours worked compared with 0.08 in the U.S. and 0.03 in Australia, he said.

Gold mines reported 33 fatalities in 2015, an improvement of 25 percent on 2014, while coal operations had five deaths, 44 percent better than the previous year. In platinum, where there was a five-month strike in 2014, the number of deaths rose to 22 from 16.

The number of injuries increased to 3,022 from 2,700 in 2014.

The National Union of Mineworkers welcomed the figures while the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union said they should not be celebrated. Family members should be able to sue companies and bosses if their loved ones perish, AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa said.

The Chamber of Mines, which represents producers, said the improvement was due to efforts of workers and management at operations.

“We reaffirm our acknowledgment that we cannot rest until every mineworker returns from work unharmed every day,” it said in an e-mailed statement.

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