A former Lily Mine manager has claimed the crown pillar that led to the collapse of the mine sent no warning signs beforehand.
Bongani Rantho testified at the inquest into the tragedy they had restricted access to the crown pillar.
Rantho joined the mine in 2015 after being recruited by owner Michael McChesney.
"Areas which led to the crown pillar were sealed off. No one was allowed to access it unless under strict supervision. The inspection of the crown pillar at level 4 was part of the planning of the mine.
"We had to break the wall to gain access to level 4. We could only see some portions of the crown pillar, not all of it. We wanted to see if we could start declining, not below it [the crown pillar] but adjacent to it.
"There was no rambling near the crown pillar. If there were any, we would have been able to notice that. We didn't even see water coming through the crown pillar. The mine was stable," said Rantho.
He added physical monitoring of the mine was crucial.
"Following the incident, we formed a rescue plan. Our foresight on the mine didn't fail."
NO FATALITY REPORTED
Rantho claimed not a single fatality was reported before and after he joined the mine.
"Mining is inherently dangerous. It is exposed to existing and other hazards. There are some hazards you can't cater for and mitigate completely. You have to take steps to ensure that those steps do not endanger people.
"There was high safety culture. We had a full-time safety representative, and the labour structure focused on the safety and health of workers. Employees were compliant with most standards. Where there was non-compliance, behavioural steps would be taken. Before and during my tenure at the mine, there was no fatal incident reported."
Rantho testified the Mine had a culture of openness and open debates on matters they disagreed on.
"I don't agree to remarks that we made plans as we moved along. The Department of Minerals and Energy was there to do audits and inspections. They arrived unannounced. We fully cooperated with them."
Rantho added the lamp room, which later sunk underground, was secure and fitted with cameras.
"The lamp room was the starting point before going underground. Cameras were installed to monitor the lamp room, portal and loading areas. The monitoring of the camera was not on site.
"The standard of security was high for a small mine like ours. We didn't have a significant problem of illegal mining like our neighbours. At some stage, I went to investigate with a colleague who had recovered explosives.
"On our inspection, there was a hole with ropes hanging, which led to the top of the mountain. There were cases where they might have blasted explosives. Illegal mining was not huge at Lily Mine, unlike in other mines," he said.
"We would have noticed if there was an influx of between 600 to 1 000 illegal miners in the last three months before the collapse. I was also told of zama zamas arrested with gold-bearing material at a village near the mine.
"I have not personally seen them inside the mine unless they were wearing clothes similar to our miners. We were worried after an explosives box was damaged and suspected that zama zamas could have done it.
"I was shocked when I heard that the former head of security, Tjaart van Straaten, was involved in illegal mining activities. I was also not aware that some security guards were paid about R1 000 for each illegal miner to enter the mine," Rantho added.
Van Straaten has since died.
The inquest, which is being held in the Nelspruit Magistrate's Court, is to determine who is liable for the 2016 incident.
Mineworkers Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyirenda were last seen on 5 February 2016 inside the lamp room before it sunk underground when the mine collapsed.
They are yet to be found.
The hearing continues.