A power surge at Konkola Copper Mines in Chililabombwe saw 131 miners stranded underground for over three hours on Saturday afternoon until they were pulled out at around 22:00 hours in the night.

But KCM Provisional Liquidator Milingo Lungu says there were no miners who were trapped in the cages, and explained that there were repair works done to the cages which took about three hours.

“One of the cages had a fault which required working on and this delayed the shifts by 3 hours from 18:00 hours to 21:00 hours. The delay and fixing was done as a safety precaution. So there was no trip out and there were no people in the cage when it was being worked on. Further, there there is no issue of injuries or fatalities,”said Lungu.

And KCM Acting General Manager for Corporate Affairs added: KCM uses two service winders to lower people down shaft No.4, one at shaft No. 1 and the other at shaft 4. On Saturday, 21st December there was a planned Balance Rope change at Shaft No. 4 Service Winder. During this period, Shaft No. 1 Service Winder was scheduled to lower people down. Shaft No. 4 is normally used to lower people down the mine.”

“At 15:55 hours on the same day during routine trip test, the team noticed a mismatch on Emergency Brake Valve causing the emergency brake to fail to release. Diagnosis of the cause of failure and correction of the mismatch unfortunately took long and went past the 18: 00 hours shift change, until 20:40 hours. The delay in the shift change was instituted as safety precaution because the winder could not be used without brakes being tested to the satisfaction of the engineer appointed by law and KCM’s standard operating procedures.”

But KCM sources in Chingola told News Diggers earlier that the incident happened twice on the same day at No.1 Shaft, barely 10 days after another incident was recorded at No.4 Shaft.

“A Cage tripped yesterday at Konkola No.1 Shaft. And about 131 day-shift miners were stuck underground until 22:00 hours when the cage started working again. There were actually two incidences of power surge which caused the tripping of power around the winders,”said the source who sought anonymity for fear of retribution.

“Usually when something like this happens, there are emergency safety procedures that are immediately initiated to ensure that the miners who are stuck remain safe. So that was done and they managed to take them out; by 22:00 hours everyone was out. But unfortunately, this not the first time. You may wish to know that 10 days ago, a similar incident happed at No.4 Shaft. I am not aware if there were people who were trapped, but there was a problem with a cage again, whereby after a power trip out, a cage cable got entangled somehow. So they had to replace the whole cable. This is the same thing that happed at No.1 Shaft yesterday (Saturday),”the source said.

The source revealed that KCM had recorded frequent accidents and faults because the major installations at the mine had continued operating without maintenance, since government too over the business units from Vedanta Resources Ltd.

“There is an investigation that is currently going on, trying to ascertain what is causing this. But really, what is obvious is that we are sitting at a situation where all the infrastructure that had not been serviced under the previous ownership of the mine have remained in use without any major repairs. All the machinery that had been run down is being used in that same state because no investment has come through to support the on-going production,”said the source.

“If government does find the money soon to invest in maintaining critical installations of the mine especially at Konkola and Nchanga, we are risking a disaster that will claim so many lives, and that will be very unfortunate. I wish people can take these incidences as timely warnings to pay attention to key installation of the mine.””

Although it was placed under provisional liquidation after a government takeover, KCM has continued to operate under the leadership of Milingo Lungu, a status the Vedanta Resources is challenging through arbitration against shareholders ZCCM-IH.

The protracted court actions initiated by ZCCM-IH in Lusaka and Vedanta Resources in South Africa have seen the government fail to find a new investor to takeover the mine.

Meanwhile sporadic cases of demonstrations have been reported at the KCM headquarters in Chingola where the frustrated and impatient mining community is accusing government officials and some ruling party seniors of making profits through contracts from the mine, at their expense.