Report any unethical behaviour or gender-based intimidation and violence

Free call: 0800 022 007
Free fax: 0800 00 77 88


At 00:45 on 24 February 1994, an underground fire at Gloria Colliery, Koornfontein, Mpumalanga, resulted in 33 mineworkers being trapped 180m underground – 17 employees who made their way to a refuge bay were rescued; but tragically, 16 employees died in the incident.

Investigations by the mine and the authorities pieced together the events leading up to the incident. Prior to the outbreak of the fire, electrical short circuits caused power outages on several occasions in various sections of the mine, which was owned by Trans-Natal Coal Corporation at the time. Attempts to reconnect the power supply to these sections failed when a transformer exploded, injuring one employee and causing a fire that filled the main intake airway with smoke.

The incident was reported to the mine’s control room and notice was given to the two affected production sections. Employees who were working in one section of the mine managed to find their way to the refuge bay. However, employees who were working in Section 5 at the time lost their way  due to the smoke. While they were equipped with self-contained self-rescue equipment, which provides a 30-minute oxygen supply, these employees were trapped underground for 40 hours and thus tragically lost their lives.

Meanwhile, the mineworkers who made it to the refuge bay were constantly in telephonic contact with the mine’s control room. Supplies were lowered down a narrow borehole, through which oxygen was pumped.

Around 160 mine rescue teams, trained and co-ordinated by the Mine Rescue Services (MRS), worked tirelessly to reach the survivors and to recover those that had lost their lives.

By 11:00, the T5 rescue drill was in place, and drilling to reach the miners in the refuge bay had started. This was the third emergency ‘outing’ of the drill purchased on behalf of the then Chamber of Mines Collieries committee and commissioned in 1977. The T5 was able to reach the workings of all but 20% of the collieries in South Africa at the time. Drilling of a 640mm diameter hole commenced and holed adjacent to the rescue chamber but could not ultimately be used to bring people to the surface owing to poor conditions, including poor visibility.

At 19:45, as a result of the MRS intervention, the mineworkers were reached by the MRS ‘proto teams’ and were ‘walked out’ to the surface using long-duration self-contained self-rescuers.

Following the investigations into the cause of the fire, oil-filled transformers were phased out from all underground workings in the South African mining industry. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy also issued a Guideline for the Compilation of a Mandatory Code of Practice for the Prevention of Fires at Mines (https://www.gov.za/sites/default/files/gcis_document/201609/40313rg10644gon1199.pdf).

The South African coal sector has seen vast safety improvements over the past years and South African coal mines are among the safest mines in the world today.

The Minerals Council and its members are committed to ensuring that every mine worker returns from work unharmed every day. Through the lessons learnt from tragedies such as this one at the Gloria Colliery, the industry strives for zero harm.