On the 25th of February 2017, the Thole family could have not imagined that the day would end tragically without their son, Richard safely by their side.
From this day till now, the incident has not only been emotionally daunting for the family, but for the community members of Jerusalem informal settlement as well.
For the past three weeks, the City of Ekurhuleni Emergency Services, the National Department of Mineral Resources as well as the Mine Rescue Services have tirelessly worked on rescuing Richard Thole. The tragic accident has emphasized the major issue of abandoned mine shafts, the greater and urgent need of safe communities, but more notably the socio-economic conditions which still characterise our communities.
The Executive Mayor, Cllr Mzwandile Masina took it upon himself to find ways in which Richard Thole could be rescued or subsequently his body be recovered.
The City, through the Mine Rescue Services explored all avenues and the team was there from the 25th of February till the 28th of February 2017, when one of the rescuers lost consciousness as a result of a lack of oxygen, as the excavation proceeded further down into the shaft. the Mine Rescue Services were hard at work trying to excavate deeper into the mine shaft. The City then delegated social workers to the family on the 27th to the parents, as this period of anticipation was traumatic.
The land surrounding the shaft was becoming unstable and falling into the shaft. The City, then called a press conference to paint a specific and a more elaborate picture on the dangers confronted by the rescuers.
The CEO of Mines Rescue Services (M.R.S.) Mr Christo De Klerk, elaborated on the severe falling of ground on the South Side of the shaft and oxygen deficiency as they lower rescuers. Cameras were also used to make an assessment of where the boy could be located.
Upon receiving the official report of M.R.S. through the Department of Mineral resources, the Mayor requested the South African National Defence Force, to intervene if possible, as all options within the parameters of the City had been exhausted. On the 2nd of March the SANDF promptly heeded the call and a rescue team from 7 Medical Battalion from the South African Military Health Services came to Jerusalem to make a thorough assessment.
The Mines Rescue Services had to halt the operations due to the heavy rains towards the end of the week, making it more difficult to continue. It was then resolved to await the SANDF report prior to any further attempt due to the risk and dangers posed by the fragility of the land.
The SANDF then made an official presentation to the Executive Mayor, The Speaker of Council, Cllr Patricia Khumalo and City Manager, Dr Imogen Mashazi on Tuesday, 14th of March 2017.
The meeting included the parents of Richard Thole, the Department of Mineral Resources, Community leaders of Jerusalem as well as the Ward Councillor. The SANDF stated the following:
- Whilst they had done many rescue operations across the continent, this case was unique
- The weather patterns i.e. sporadic heavy rains had impacted on the stability of the surrounding soil
- The report and equipment provided by the Mines Rescue Services provided was the best across the continent. The report further provided sufficient evidence that there is a possibility of losing more people in an attempt to recover the body, as going down further into the shaft poses a greater risk of the ground caving in
- That they have now tasked the Research and Development staff officers to engage with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as well as industry to investigate new technologies to address future incidents
The Executive Mayor, given the report therefore proposed the following to the family:
- Continued counselling services from the City of Ekurhuleni
- That all mining sink holes be cordoned off and the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department, together with community ensure that these holes aren't opened
- That the City hold a memorial service for Richard Thole
- That the City Manager urgently lead the process of relocating members of the community to a safer place
The City of Ekurhuleni has noted reports of a purported story that the City had placed sand into the sinkhole. The media sensationalism around the story has been severely harmful to members of the family, the matter was raised with the family as well as community leaders.
The ground around the mine shaft has been severely unstable and this has caused more soil to fall into the shaft. Whilst we note that this has been a human story which has received much attention, as the City we plea that consideration be given to the family and what they are going through. The parents are devastated and like any parent, all they wished for was the recovery of the body. As the City our efforts from day one have been that.
However due to the reports from experts and the danger posed around the mission, we are compelled by law to abide by reports we have been given, which stop the operation.
We however remain committed towards assisting the Thole family through these trying times. They have indicated that we allow them time to consider our offer of assistance and that is what we have agreed on together with community leaders.