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Funeral Held for Worker Killed in Gold Mine Fire; Union Sets Day of Mourning

September 20, 1986

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ A white miner was buried near the gold mine where he and 176 other workers lost their lives in an underground fire, and a black miner’s union called a one-day work stoppage to mourn the dead.

General Union Mining Corp., owner of the Kinross mine in the eastern Transvaal, scheduled a memorial service Monday at the No. 2 shaft where fumes killed 172 black miners and five whites on Tuesday.

A total of 235 other workers, most of them blacks, were injured in the blaze one mile below the surface.

The National Union of Mineworkers, the nation’s largest black miners’ union, said it had not been invited to participate in that memorial, but would hold its own Wednesday in the nearby town of Secunda, 62 miles east of Johannesburg.

In addition, the union is calling for a day of mourning on Oct. 1.

White miner Chris Dorfling, a shift supervisor said to have died while trying to rescue other miners trapped in the fire and smoke, was buried Friday in the flat, treeless cemetery in the small town of Evander near the mine.

His body was lowered into one of a row of open graves - a reminder of the other burials to come.

The mineworkers’ union, representing 250,000 workers, charged Friday that the owners of the Kinross mine had refused to let European mining experts visit the scene of the deadly blaze.

Carl Netscher, senior director of the General Mining Union Corp. mining division, said he knew of no request regarding British, West German and Swedish experts. But he said such a request would be considered if received.

Union General Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters the foreign visitors intended to check the union’s claims that safety irregularities contributed to the worst disaster in the history of South African gold mining.

Ramaphosa said, ″We feel GenCor is going to remove as much evidence as they possibly can.″ A government official is conducting an inquiry into the accident.

Ramaphosa said union members would strike if management did not grant permission for the one-day work stoppage Oct. 1, which could idle 600,000 miners in the coal and gold mining sectors, which are vital to South Africa’s economy.

He said the union would also hold strike votes in the next two weeks after four-month-old wage talks with the Chamber of Mines, which represents the mine owners, broke down earlier Friday.

GenCor executive chairman Derek L. Keys declined to respond to Ramaphosa’s charge that the disaster might have been averted if not for alleged safety shortcomings.

″I am awaiting the verdict of the inquiry,″ Keys said.

Con Fauconnier, GenCor’s head of mining and medical services, said Kinross had dropped from five to three stars in the industry safety ratings because of problems in three areas, including fire control inspections.

The South African Press Association quoted Kinross mine manager Jacobus Olivier as saying one of the infringements involved a fire extinguisher in the wrong place.

Ramaphosa has said that one of the causes of the fire was the fact that the welder involved in the accident that sparked the blaze did not have a fire extinguisher handy. The company has not responded to that.

Company officials said they did not know whether a polyurethane foam sealant suspected of spewing the fatal fumes had been subjected to safety tests before being used.

Executives told a Friday news conference that the suspect foam had not been used since it was sprayed six years ago on a short stretch of the mine’s 190 miles of tunnels.

Fauconnier said the mining company hoped to introduce oxygen masks soon for miners to use in the event of underground fires.

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