The Dangers of Working in the Lonmin Marikana Platinum Mine

On August 5, 2010 a horrible accident occurred at the San Jose mine in Chile. As the miners were about to eat lunch the walls began to collapse around them. They were trapped a mile below the surface with no way out. Mine officials and the miners’ families feared the worst. It was possible that the miners were in the danger zone when the accident occurred. The international community joined the Chileans in praying for the miners’ safe rescue. Mining officials on site quietly expressed their view that the missing miners needed a miracle to have survived the collapse.

Seventeen days later the miners, their families and national and international well wishers had their miracle; the miners had been found alive, though weak and hungry. The miners found probes that rescuers had drilled down to search for survivors. Using the probes the miners sent messages back up to the rescuers. Communication with the miners had been established. Chilean Undersecretary of Mining Pablo Wagner cautioned that it could take four months for a hole big enough could be drilled to remove the miners. Later it was discovered that the mine walls were too unstable to allow large scale rescue operations. The initial euphoria slowly turned to despair as rescuers realized the daunting challenges that they faced to free the miners from their soon to be grave.

In a rare display of international cooperation and assistance a plan was devised to rescues the miners. Once the proper equipment was on sight and the rescue plan had been fully discussed and agreed upon, the miners began rising to the surface in small one-man capsules. After two months of confinement almost a mile below the surface the first of the miners set foot on the surface. The accent vehicle was called the Phoenix and was paint in the colors of the Chilean flag. Specialist from NASA, an international team of drilling experts and millions of dollars made the rescue of the trapped miners a reality. Thousand of miles away people watch on their television sets or the live feed on their computers the rescue of each of the thirty-three miners. When the last miner stepped out of the ascent vehicle a relieved world let out a collective sigh.

Though the Chilean miners escaped their tombs in waiting underground mining is an extremely dangerous business. Although mine safety has improved over the years, tragic accidents still happen with the lost of life. It is believe that globally about 12,000 miners are lost each year. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) mining employs around 1% of the global workforce but it generates 8% of work related fatalities. China and Russian seem to be the exception  to the global improvement in mine safety and a reduction in fatalities. The statistics indicate that developed nations normally have better safety records than developing nations. The experts believe that this is because unions are stronger in the developed nations. It is argued that unions insist on mine safety and advocate the well-being of the miners. In less developed nations unions are either weak or marginalized in the political and economic process. In the less developed countries if a miner complains about mine conditions or general miners’ safety he will most likely be out of a job.

South Africa (SA) is the world leader is mining and refining platinum group metals (PGMs). The world’s largest deposit of PGMs is located in Marikana which is located in Western SA. The owner and manager of this platinum mine is Lonmin Plc (Lonmin). The company was organized under British law in 1909 as the London and Rhodesian Mining Company Ltd. Today Lonmin’s principal headquarters is located in the South African city of Johannesburg with corporate offices also located in London, England. The company is seen as one of the world’s largest producers of PGMs. Lonmin engages in the exploration, mining, refining and marketing of PGMs.

The global automobile industry requires platinum to manufacture catalytic converters (CATS).  These devices control toxic emissions produced by internal combustion gasoline engines. Almost every government requires auto manufacturers to install CATS on the vehicles they produce to cut down on air pollution. Almost all present day automobiles that run on gasoline are fitted with a three way CATS to reduce toxic emissions. Without the converters the toxic gases would be expelled directly into the air. CATS are also used on generator sets, forklifts, airplanes, locomotives and other machinery that is used everyday. Lastly PGMS are used in making high-end jewelry.

About two weeks ago South African (SA) platinum miners lost their lives. The dangers that these miners faced was not located deep underground but above ground. When the miners lost their lives they were not working the mine because they had called an illegal strike. On the day in question their demonstration for higher pay and safer conditions, unfortunately, turned violent. On August 17, 2012 at South Africa’s Lonmin Marikana mine 34 striking miners died in clashes with police and mine security forces. The violent confrontation left another 78 persons injured. It would be an understatement to say the loss of life was tragic. The YouTube video of the confrontation between the police and the miners is graphic and disturbing. A police officer can be heard shouting orders to his men to stop shooting.

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