S. Africa Says Biggest Gold Miners Are Risking Worker Lives

  • AngloGold, Sibanye accused of failing to follow safety laws
  • Companies have taken legal action over mine stoppages

South Africa has accused Sibanye Gold Ltd. and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., the country’s two biggest gold producers, of putting workers’ lives at risk in an ongoing dispute over safety stoppages.

Public comments from both companies suggest that they are refusing to comply with the country’s mining laws, the Department of Mineral Resources said in an e-mailed statement dated Jan. 25.

The two miners have criticized government inspectors for being too heavy-handed in temporarily closing mines for safety breaches, while the Department of Mineral Resources argues the companies are unwilling to follow the law. AngloGold won a court ruling in October that blocked one such closure notice at its Kopanang mine and Sibanye is suing Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and other officials for compensation after its Kroondal platinum mine was closed.

“If companies cannot mine safely, they should not be mining at all, and should allow other potential holders,” Zwane said in the statement. “It is unacceptable that these companies are choosing to cheapen the lives of mineworkers in this manner.”

AngloGold has reduced operating fatalities by more than 80 percent in the past decade and has “no higher priority” than its employees’ safety, the company said in an e-mailed statement late Thursday.

“We continue to seek dialogue with the DMR at every level, with the primary aim of improving safety and ensuring fair and proportional application of applicable safety legislation,” the company said. “Where there is disagreement, we will continue –- as we have done -- to use the proper appeal mechanisms and legal remedies available.”

South Africa had 73 mining fatalities in 2016, a record low and a ninth consecutive year of declines. The country’s gold and platinum mines are the world’s deepest and among the most dangerous.

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