More than 950 trapped gold miners freed in South Africa

All gold miners caught underground after a power cut have been safely brought back to surface

The Sibanye gold mineshaft in South Africa where miners were trapped underground. (Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)
The Sibanye gold mineshaft in South Africa where miners were trapped underground. (Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)

All 955 workers from a gold mine in South Africa have been safety brought back to the surface.

Hundreds of gold miners were stuck underground in South Africa on Thursday after a power cut, the mine’s owner said, though the workers were not reported to be in immediate danger.

The Sibanye-Stillwater mining company said a massive power outage caused by a storm had prevented lifts from bringing the night shift to the surface at the Beatrix gold mine, near the city of Welkom.

"Everybody's out," said James Wellsted, a spokesman for the operating firm Sibanye-Stillwater. He said there were "cases of dehydration and high blood pressure but nothing serious".

He said the depth where the miners were trapped was uncertain, but the mine has 23 levels, going down to about 1,000m (3,280ft) below ground.

One cable was restored during the day and 272 workers were rescued, but 955 remained trapped by early evening, the company said

Wellsted said that engineers were struggling to get emergency generators to operate and re-start the lifts following the storm.

“We are having some issues – probably related to the power surge linked to the storm – in getting the winders working, so we are busy working on that issue at the moment,” he added.

Back-up power generators failed to kick in due to a software issue “and we are trying to solve that problem,” said Wellsted.

But on Friday morning electricity was finally restored to a lift, enabling the workers' release. They are being taken for food and showers upon their release, before having medical health checks.

"It was stressful, there was not enough ventilation," said mineworker Mike Khonto. "Thankfully our management managed to send us food and water."

Trade union officials had previously said they feared that the lives of the miners were at risk.

AMCU, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, said that the workers stuck underground were facing major health and safety risks.

“AMCU views this incident as extreme due to the sheer number of workers involved,” it said in a statement.

“The incident raises serious concern regarding the lacking emergency contingency plans at the mine for alternative and back-up power generation.”

Another mining union the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) complained about mine safety and called on mineworkers to refuse to work in “dangerous conditions”.

“Major multinational corporations like Sibanye-Stillwater which should be industry leaders in creating a safety culture are doing far too little to prevent accidents,” the union said in a statement.

South Africa possesses rich mineral reserves and has some of the world’s deepest gold mines, but more than 80 fatalities were recorded in South African mines in 2017.