The City of Ekurhuleni says it hopes the family of a small boy, who fell down an abandoned mine shaft in Jerusalem Informal Settlement in Boksburg at the start of 2017, will find consolation in their new RDP house.
Nombeko Thole says she still struggles to accept that Richard, who was five at the time of his death, is gone, and that despite intensive search efforts, his body was never recovered.
Nearly two years have passed since the round-faced five-year old was swallowed by the ground when the cement-covering of an old mine shaft collapsed while he played with friends near his family’s small shack.
To date, nobody has been found responsible or held accountable for his death.
While handing Nombeko Thole the keys to her new RDP house in Daveyton, Ekurhuleni’s MMC for Human Settlements Lesiba Mya called on national government to take action.
“There has to be accountability on the death of Richard. Someone has to take the blame. Someone has to be accountable. However there is mining activity that happens there, and of course as local government there’s minimum roles that we have. So we are calling upon the national department of mineral resources to actually rope in safety issues and safety measures in as far as mining activities are concerned.”
Despite the shiny golden key in her hand, Nombeko Thole’s smile occasionally slips. It’s a bittersweet occasion – Happiness for a brick and mortar home for her family intermingles with heartache when she thinks of her baby boy.
It pains her that the shaft is still exposed but says she cannot give permission to close it just yet. Richard’s body was never recovered, and she can’t afford the ceremony needed to lay his spirit to rest. Thole hopes government can help.
“Until now we are still waiting. I would like people from where I was living to go there by the shaft and put something and join and make me happy there. I was still feeling when I saw a kid I wish I can saw mine too but now I’m getting used to that. Because it won’t change. He won’t come. Now the shaft is still open. I’m worried because there are still many kids there.”
This woman works at a crèche in Jerusalem, close to the gaping hole with jagged edges. She says the area is dark and overgrown and as risky to adults who don’t know it’s there as it is to children.
William Ntladi is Ekurhuleni’s Disaster and Emergency Management spokesperson and agrees the shaft must be covered.
“According to information from DMR they have already appointed a contractor who is due to close up the shaft and it becomes a burning issue for us to say whilst it remains open what next? Because if it remains open anything can happen. We are approaching summer again so we don’t know how will the rainy season impact on that very same shaft and the other shafts around the area.”
Ntladi was there in 2017 as rescuers risked their lives in the unstable shaft, with some oxygen readings as low as 11 percent, amidst toxic fumes from acid water at the base. He says Zama zamas and their illegal mining activities further compromise shafts stability, placing the entire area at risk.
“Previously they used to leave certain rocks to give stability and support, and mining a certain portion of it. So what if these people who are doing illegal mining they are breaking those pillars, they are reefing on that, creating a void whereby those rocks are not supported at all. What will happen if ever there is a quivering of the ground? That will find that now there is no support structure and everything above that level will basically be swallowed underground.”
He says the best safety advice for informal settlements on old mines is that residents should move.
“We plead with everyone around the shaft along with all other shafts to be very cautious and work with officials as and when they have to be moved for their own safety, because its not only mine shafts, rainy seasons are coming, flooding is coming, so you find people being relocated to another better area then we have challenges from the public refusing to move out of the area.”
MMC for Human Settlements, Lesiba Mya, says Jerusalem and its community are a priority, with more than thirty-million rand budgeted to bring services to the area.
“So the community of Jerusalem, we have not forgotten about them. That will mean that people will get an opportunity to own houses, to have a flushing toilet. To have property that is electrified. So it means the lives of the people will change dramatically.”
One can hope that this will afford Jerusalem’s children the safety that Richard Thole never had.