Gold mining has been one of the major means of generating revenue in South Africa. There are several gold mines found in the country and Lily Mine happens to be one of them. Located in Barberton, Ehlanzeni District, in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa, Lily Mine first began as an oxide open pit operation in 2000. However, it later developed as a shallow underground operation. It has lode gold deposits along with the faulted interface between the Figtree and Onverwacht groups of the Archa greenstone belt. The gold mineralization is structurally controlled and associated with fine-grained pyrrhotite, minor arsenopyrite, and quartz-carbonate veins.
Presently, Lily Mine has Mineral Resources of over 1.9 million ounces and Ore reserves of 0.35 million ounces, in an ore body which is 2m to 15m wide and about 700m below the surface. There are usually a number of drilling, blasting, and hauling methods used for its underground development. Some of these methods include long-hole drilling, hanging wall drives and ramps, and the use of mechanized equipment along specifically sized reef drives, etc.
For one to gain access to the underground mine, you would have to go through a main portal from the old Lily Main open pit.
The Lily Mine Collapse
On the 5th of February 2016, the Lily Mine had an unfortunate event where the mine caved in. The collapse which occurred at the main entrance of the mine trapped 87 workers underground. However, they were later rescued and no fatalities were reported. Sadly, three other mineworkers, who were identified as Ms. Yvone Mnisi, Ms. Pretty Mabuza, and Mr. Solomon Nyarenda, were also trapped under.
Those three workers were said to be working in a shipping container on the surface, but within seconds the container disappeared into a sinkhole and was buried under tons of rock. Though a rescue team was sent in immediately in order to get the workers out; nevertheless, they were eventually evacuated due to unstable grounds and dangerous conditions.
Generally, South African mines are regarded as one of the deepest and no doubt, the most dangerous in the world. Meanwhile, Lily Mine’s incident was not the first to be recorded in South Africa. In the previous year, about 77 mineworkers were reported to have lost their lives through mining accidents. Also, in 2014, 84 deaths were also recorded in the sector.
The Rescue Mission
Following the collapse of the Lily Mine, the rescue mission was suspended until a full geotechnical assessment was completed and the risk levels of the underground operations established. According to the Lilly Mine owners Vantage Goldfields’ CEO, Mike McChesney, it is simply not possible to know or provide any definitive time frames on when the geotechnical assessment will be finalized.
He also added that some of the world’s best-qualified specialists in the field have been called in following the collapse to lead the geotechnical assessment. The assessment needs to be comprehensive and thorough to ensure that we don’t experience any further tragedy at Lily Mine by exposing the rescue teams to even greater risk in a highly unstable underground environment.
The management of the mine further promised the miners some compensation; stating to give R50,000 to all the seventy-five miners who survived and R200,000 to those who are yet to be rescued. However, after about three years of search and rescue attempts, the bodies of the three mineworkers were never found. And within these three years, Lily Mine operations have remained suspended by the South African government.
When is Lily Mine Re-Opening?
Since the operations at Lily Mine came to a halt in February 2016, the mine has since been placed under business rescue, as over a thousand people have lost their jobs. The owners of the mine, Vantage Goldfields Ltd said it will require about R300 million to pay for maintenance and settle debts, before the operations of the mine will be restored.
However, after three years of hiatus, the news of re-opening the mine dominated tabloids in early 2019, after Vantage Goldfields announced that it has accepted to sell 100% of its shares and claims to Real Win Investments (RWI). The agreement was signed on the 12th day of March 2019 and the Vantage Goldfields CEO Mike McChesney said:
“We have been holding back on this announcement for many months but we are now pleased to introduce the new investor which will take over the operations. After many months of unfortunate delays, the business rescue process can now be completed and the mines re-opened”.
According to the new owners of the mine, the Lily Mine has been scheduled to reopen in February 2020. The company has also gotten huge support from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) of South Africa. And we hope that this time, the operations will be fully restored, as it will help with the issues of unemployment in the rainbow nation.