To be continued…….
The Coalbrook mining disaster happened on 21 January 1960 at the Coalbrook coal mine of Clydesdale Colliery over a year before I was born. However, I remember my parents talking about it, but further than I never heard of any official commemoration or coverage and it was usually mentioned when yet another disaster occurred in the mining industry in South Africa. Unfortunately it has also been relegated to memory, and the purpose of this blogpost is to help keep the memory alive of those who did not return, and who are still entombed underground, in the place where they met their death.
From what I can read it is also classed as the worst mining disaster in the history of South Africa and the seventh worst mining disaster in the world (as at May 2014) (https://www.mining-technology.com/). 437 men lost their lives in the disaster, most of these being African mine workers. A number of rescue attempts were made but the operation was called off after 11 days with no bodies being recovered and with no hope of finding survivors.
In December of 1959 a collapse occurred at the mine that was really a precursor of what was to come. Management did not take sufficient heed of this warning and the miners reluctantly returned to work. However on the 21st of January the mine suffered from a “….cascading pillar failure where a few pillars fail initially and this increases the load on the adjacent pillars causing them to fail. This cascading failure caused pillar collapse over an area covering 324 hectares.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalbrook_mining_disaster) In essence the cutting down of support pillar sizes had brought down the roof!
The human tragedy outweighs the economic one. Each miner probably supported a family or was connected to a family. They had wives and children, parents and grandparents, each was affected by the loss of those men who laboured in dangerous conditions to produce the coal that fired the power stations that supplied the country with electricity.
Unfortunately the men who died were quickly forgotten, although in their communities they would be mourned and remembered. In 1996 following the closure of Coalbrook South the new owner of the village and workshops erected a memorial using a coal cutter from the mine as a backdrop to an inscription on a stone plaque which reads:
IN MEMORY OF THOSE 435
MINERS WHO LOST THEIR LIVES
IN THE COALBROOK-MINE DISASTER
“AFTER ALL THOSE YEARS YOU ARE
STILL IN OUR HEARTS AND THOUGHTS”
The new and much larger memorial consists of an amphitheatre situated at the site of the south shaft. The names of the 437 men entombed in the mine are engraved on stone plinth placed around the inside perimeter and two granite tablets at the entrance commemorate the disaster.
Sadly the memorial at Holly Country near Sasolburg has been mired in controversy, issues raised include misspellings of names, poor workmanship, incorrect information and a blatantly plagiarised inscription. It appears that even 60 years after the fact Coalbrook is still mired in controversy.
The images used in this post were kindly supplied by Piet Lombard and are used with permission.
I have had to rely on a number of sources in this short commemoration. The primary source being
There are a number of images of the memorials and area at:
DRW © 2020. Created 21/01/2020