Since the start of the year, 68 fatalities have been reported in the mining sector, up from 65 in the same period last year. South Africa’s mining sector is not living up to its promise to reduce fatalities by 20% for each year, Godfrey Oliphant, Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources, said on Wednesday, pointing to an increase in mine deaths in the first half of the year. Speaking at the unveiling of a R4,7m Mine Rescue Service station in Steelpoort, Mpumalanga, on Wednesday, Mr Oliphant said the government was taking steps to ensure the industry complied with health and safety laws. “Our biggest concern remains safety measures in the mining sector … Companies need to balance increased demand with the need for improved safety on their operations,” he said. The Mines Rescue Service provides resources and expertise for emergency responses primarily within the mining industry.

Since the start of the year, 68 fatalities have been reported in the mining sector, compared with 65 deaths in the same period last year, according to Matthews Nzimande, president of the Association of Mine Managers of South Africa. “The mining industry has regressed in relation to achieving zero harm,” Mr Nzimande said.

The Steelpoort rescue station will cater for the ever-growing number of ferrochrome, chrome, coal and platinum mining operations on the Eastern Bushveld Igneous complex that encompasses Lydenburg, Burgersfort and Polokwane. Up to now, rescue operations in the region had been co-ordinated by teams stationed in Phalaborwa, about 500km away, and Evander, which is roughly 250km south of Steelpoort.

Last month, the former chief inspector of mines, May Hermanus, said there was little evidence of the key parties involved in mine safety working together. At the time, Sietse van der Woude, safety and sustainable development adviser to the Chamber of Mines, said the mining sector was the only one that had established a partnership between labour, companies and the government to address safety. He pointed out though that when there was a fatal accident those three parties each retreated to their “blame corners”.