Mponeng, 29 July 1999

The explosion at Mponeng, previously known as the Western Deep Levels No 1 shaft, occurred in an access tunnel lying 2.7 kilometres beneath the Earth’s surface. Classified as a “fiery mine”, methane was known to be emitted from the rocks, so extra-special safety and ventilation precautions were needed to eliminate the dangers presented by the gas.

Within a short time after the explosion, the mine’s rescue teams were working underground to bring uninjured people to surface and to recover the bodies of the deceased. The job was completed professionally and expeditiously as dawn was breaking. The 20 men who escaped the blast were taken by ambulance to hospital for thorough health checks.

While we mourn the loss of 19 irreplaceable lives, it is perhaps appropriate that we remember the many years of work by members of rescue teams (proto teams, as they are known on the mines). Proto team members are all volunteers who are specially trained to perform their rescue work without any expectation of personal benefit. Their reward comes from the inner knowledge that the work they do, generally in dangerous areas, is for their colleagues. They are on call around the clock and ready at a minute’s notice to do their duty and help in rescue operations at their own or other mines.

Proto team members do their work without fear for their own safety when it comes to finding and extricating potentially badly injured underground workers. And when their work is done, they shower and return to their own homes for well-earned rest. Few men combine the modesty, calmness and bravery of proto team members.

And so, today, we remember the men who lost their lives and the families, friends and colleagues who have lost loved ones. Their deaths have led us to redouble our resolve to ensure that people working in our country’s mines are safe. There can be no weakening of our resolve to ensure that miners do not suffer harm as they go about their work. We, in the mining industry, are responsible for our own safety and, equally as important, for the safety of those with whom we work.

The target to which we are working towards is that of zero harm.