By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa will tighten its mine safety regulations to hold mine operators accountable for accidental deaths in the industry, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.
Safety is a huge issue in South Africa’s deep and dangerous mines and increasingly a focus for investors. A spate of deaths at Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold operations, including a seismic event that killed seven miners in early May, has highlighted the risks.
Ramaphosa was responding during an interview for eNCA news channel to a question after six miners died on Sunday in an underground fire at a copper mine operated by unlisted Palabora Mining, the latest tragedy to hit South Africa's mines.
"We are going to tighten up the regulations to ensure that those who run these mines must be accountable themselves because we cannot have so many deaths," said Ramaphosa, who was a mine union activist during apartheid.
Ramaphosa said 54 miners had been killed in South Africa's mines so far in 2018.
This follows a spike in mine deaths in 2017, to more than 80 from 73 in the previous year, ending nine straight years of falling fatalities in the world's top platinum producer.
On the vexed issue of land reform, Ramaphosa said talks would continue with traditional leaders, who earlier this month warned the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to exclude land controlled by local chiefs from its plans to redistribute property to the black majority.
The Zulu king warned of conflict over the issue.
The leaders are seen as key to the political base of the ANC and control communal land comprising 13 percent of South Africa in the former homelands, impoverished relics of apartheid where most black South Africans were literally confined under white rule.
Party reformers want to dilute their power by providing people in such areas with direct property ownership through title deeds.
"We are going to meet and have a further discussion ... with all our traditional leaders," Ramaphosa said.
"We clearly don't want two systems, we want all our people to have similar (property) rights," he said.
The ANC's plans to change the constitution to allow the government to expropriate land without compensation to rectify racial disparities has unnerved investors as it recalls the farm seizures that ruined neighbouring Zimbabwe's economy.
The ANC has said it will not pursue land reform in a way that threatens food security or economic growth. Most land remains in white hands, making it a potent symbol of lingering inequalities.
(Editing by Gareth Jones and David Goodman)