Carte Blanche 2021 Slim Billboard Desktop 1600x160

Going Inside Lily Mine

26 January 2020
For almost four years, a team of mineworkers have continuously entered the unstable Lily Mine, desperately digging their way through debris in the hopes of finding their three colleagues. We spoke to them about what it takes to continues this search, and why they refuse to give up.

On 5 February 2016, the entrance to the Lily Mine shaft in Mpumalanga collapsed. Three miners – Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyirenda – lost their lives that day, as the container they were working in ended up buried beneath tonnes of rubble. Their bodies have never been found. But a team of dedicated Lily Mine workers have continued the search despite their presence in the mine being illegal. For almost four years, miners Master and Rasta have led a team of mineworkers as they head into the unstable mine every day, desperately digging their way through debris. We spoke to Rasta about what it takes to continue this search, and why they refuse to give up.


What inspired you to take on this massive task of recovering the three miners?

I am an African. I believe that as an African it is my responsibility to help another. It doesn't sit well with me to keep quiet as if nothing has happened. These three miners – Yvonne, Solomon and Pretty - were breadwincners with kids and family who need them. I see it as my duty to retrieve their bodies.


It’s a very dangerous operation. Do you fear for your safety?

Yes, we have to go to a place where we know we might lose our lives. There are illegal miners also working in the mines and we don't always know what they think of us as we dig through the rubble every day. Honestly, we do fear for our lives. But our desire to see justice done pushes us to continue searching. We don’t have a choice.


Tell us about your experience working through the rubble?

It brings a lot of mixed emotions, you know. Sometimes, when you get there (the supposed container location) you remember that you won’t see or hear them; it’s really heart-breaking. It’s painful to know we can no longer save them. But we try and encourage each other and, as we get closer to where we believe their bodies are, we find the will to carry on.


Why is this recovery operation so important to you and the team?

Closure for the families is our main priority, to get back to work and bring back life to the community. To help people move on.


We Go Underground

To get a sense of the scale of the ongoing search, Rasta and Master took us underground, close to the location where they believe the trapped container could be. The air was stifling and the trek to Level 3 was dark and claustrophobic. The sound of illegal miners drilling away for gold on the level above us (level 2) was frightening. But this is what the miners deal with every day.