Underground: Tales from Arnot Opco’s miners – Sipho Mthethwa

It’s been just over two years since the cession was granted to former employees of the Arnot coal mine. Since then, a group of employees at Arnot Opco are working tirelessly behind the scenes to get the mine ready for operations. One of the team members who is central to reestablishing the coal-producing mine is Sipho Mthethwa, who works as a machine operator. Here are some facts about Sipho:

An allrounder of mining

He started working in the mining industry in 1995 as a belt operator. His 26 years of experience has seen Sipho acquire various skills, including blasting, learning how to drain water from a mine to engineering. With these different skillsets, he is a much-sought-after allrounder whose experience has made him indispensable. Mthethwa was among the first mineworkers to be called back under the new Arnot Opco management to help restart the mine. His allrounder experience is relied upon heavily as the small team of mining operators helps prepare the mine to lay its first ton of coal on the belt.             

‘Always be alert underground’

Sipho’s voice sinks when asked about his experience with mining accidents. He says his many years in the mining industry has taught him to always be alert underground. Having worked in the mines when sophisticated machines were probably not in use, the experienced miner says a simple bang beneath the roof of a mine with an iron rod as you move underground can easily detect the potential fall of the ground. He says that has always been the trick to avoid mining accidents. But you can never be too careful. Sipho says he’s witnessed two mining accidents in his lifetime. Although he cannot remember the exact years in which they occurred, but they led to the loss of colleagues he considered friends. He is happy to be working with a team that ensures priority for the safety, health, and well-being of its workforce.

The future of mining

The introduction of machines in the mining industry is the language of the future in this sector. Sipho says while this may be a positive development in terms of avoiding accidents. However, mechanization also brings about uncertainty when it comes to job security. He worries about future generations in South Africa, where unemployment is uncomfortably high, sitting at 32.6% at the last count.   

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