Lily Mine

The remains of three workers have been trapped underground since 2016. Images: X/ ActionSA and @ynews.

Lily Mine: Bodies of trapped workers to be retrieved as operations set to resume

It’s been eight years since the bodies of three Lily Mine employees have been trapped underground. The mine is set to be reopened.

Lily Mine

The remains of three workers have been trapped underground since 2016. Images: X/ ActionSA and @ynews.

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) has given Vantage Goldfields the green light to resume operations at the Lily and Barbrook gold mines in Barberton, Mpumalanga.

On 5 February 2016, a container-office went down when a shaft collapsed at the Lily Mine entrance in Louisville near Barberton. The bodies of Solomon Nyirenda, Pretty Nkambule, and Yvonne Mnisi were never retrieved.


Since 2019, the affected families camped outside the Lily Mine with the hope of getting assistance from the government and others to retrieve the bodies of their deceased loved ones who are still trapped in the mine.

At some point, the group’s camp was set alight and their belongings were destroyed. The spokesperson Harry Mazibuko went into hiding after receiving death threats. On the other hand, Vantage Goldfields and the Business Rescue Practitioners introduced over 10 creditors while the mine was closed.

On Wednesday, 15 May, the DMRE said the mine will reopen after Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe met with stakeholders representing Vantage Goldfields, Lomshiyo Traditional Council, the Business Rescue Practitioner, organised labour, and government leaders.

DMRE approved section 11 of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) of 2002 so that the mines could start operating again.

The department said Vantage Goldfields is expected to sink a decline/shaft to access the underground workings and retrieve the container and the three missing employees at the Lily mine. 

Notably, Mantashe warned that the reopening is not a time for celebrations.

Mantashe said they all agree that at the centre of their work is to reopen Lily Mine, retrieve the bodies, and bring closure to the affected families and fellow mineworkers.

“Despite the approval of section 11, which paves the way for the reopening of the mines and retrieval of the containers, this is not the time for celebrations, but the time for us to put in more efforts and ensure that the mines reopen in the shortest possible time,” he said. 


The department said operations may resume later this year.

The department emphasised that all stakeholders, including representatives of the Lomshiyo Traditional Council, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), expressed full support and confidence in the efforts to reopen the mines, which will create much-needed jobs in the Louisville community.

Notably, the business rescue process is expected to be completed by the end of July, after which the operations may resume. 


In April, ActionSA, together with the affected families, held a picket outside the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) headquarters in Pretoria for failure to prosecute individuals for the Lily Mine tragedy. 

ActionSA President Herman Mshaba accused the NPA of dragging its feet regarding instituting criminal proceedings. 

“The NPA gives excuse after excuse as to why a decision on possible prosecutions has not taken place while the families of Solomon Nyirenda, Pretty Nkambule, and Yvonne Mnisi, who were engulfed in a sinkhole at the mine, more than eight years ago, await closure and justice for the tragedy,” he said.

In October 2023, the Mbombela Magistrate’s Court found that the NPA should consider criminal prosecution against individuals for the Lily Mine tragedy.