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Bontekoe mine disaster, Kleinzee, Namaqualand
On Tuesday, 22 May 2012, approximately 19 people were trapped while digging for diamonds in an abandoned mining area, owned by De Beers Namaqualand Mines. All 19 is thought dead, 10 bodies have been taken out so far.
One young man, only 35 years old, was there for the first time. His entirely family is unemployed and he had a small son to take care of.
After 90 years of mining diamonds along the Namaqualand West Coast, De Beers are now selling the mine, no longer viable for them to mine, on to Trans Hex, a company that does not have a good reputation when it comes to either social responsibility or rehabilitation.
Over the past few years, clearly already decided that selling the mine on will be their next step, De Beers have progressively retrenched workers. In an area with very little livelihood options, the majority of people in the area depended on the mine for an income. After 90 years of making money from the area, De Beers have failed to plan for the economic vacuum that will be left as they downscaled mining. This company had plenty of time to develop viable, sustainable livelihood options to replace mining activities and they enough money to implement it. After vague talk about a high securiy prison and a toxic waste site, the kind of developments no one wants to see in Namaqualand, all went quiet. It appears De Beers has not even run a public participation process to hear from the very people who worked for them over the years, what it is that would work for them.
The diamond diggers that died were unemployed and desperate. Father and son died together, two brothers died together. Unemployment, as a direct result of the lack of social responsbility be De Beers, have driven these people to scramble around in narrow tunnels, in 60 degrees Celsius heat, and with very little oxygen, to try and find diamond bearing gravel so they can put bread on the table. Now they are dead and De Beers are saying they are not responsible, that these people digged illegally. They are advertising on the radio how selling the mine on to Trans Hex will create 500 jobs, but what they don't say is that in the mine's heyday more than 2000 people worked there. They are now saying they will implement projects for economic development, but they are not saying what and when.
Is this super-rich and apparently ruthless, company going to get away with this? People from the communities of Hondeklipbaai and Kommagas are already saying that these deaths will not stop other people from trying to dig, there just are no other options for people.
I have started a group on Facebook called "Bontekoe Disaster Namaqualand". Please search for it and join and let's try and get this story out as far and wide as we can. Invite your friends to join and please discuss it on Dlist. If we keep quiet about this, De Beers will walk away scot-free and 19 people would have died for nothing.