Give me a chance to go down today, I’ll do it! I’m desperate to get out of this poverty. I’m not scared to die or get arrested because even the police are involved in this. I don’t blame zama-zamas; in fact I’m encouraged by their initiative.”
These are the words of a 18 year old jobless hostel resident in Welkom, South Africa. These words are especially disturbing after a week where at least 76 illegal miners (zama-zama’s or chance-takers) have died in disused shafts of a gold mine. This man also admitted that illegal mining continues, despite the tragedy and a spate of raids by the police and soldiers, the illegal mining continues. …
Although this incident involves illegal mining, it highlights the fact that enforcing safe production or preventing unsafe behavior is inherently complex. For most people, simply the threat of death or injury will be enough to keep personal safety top-of-mind, but as we can see in this case that is not true for everyone. When driven by the desperate need to escape poverty, whether by mining ilegally, or by ensuring that you keep your job by making production targets, safety often takes a back seat.
For those who read our blog regularly, it would’ve become clear by now that we feel passionate about this issue. The events of this week, so many lives needlessly lost, once again highlights the fact that the mining industry in South Africa needs to be transformed, especially from a health and safety and greater societal impact perspective. Already there have been calls for an industry-wide safety audit by government, we’re hoping that this will not lead to an even greater focus on compliance (which will only compound the issue), but rather to a real effort to get to the root causes of unsafe behavior, and real action to address these issues appropriately.