Min­ers and fam­i­lies still wait­ing in vain for reparations


RES­CUE BID: Mem­bers of the South African Mine Res­cue Ser­vices make their way to the col­lapsed site at Van­tage Gold­fields’ Lily Mine, near Bar­ber­ton, where three minework­ers were trapped under­ground in a

Johan­nes­burg — Today marks 316 days since Feb­ru­ary 5, the day the ground col­lapsed at Lily Mine, west of Bar­ber­ton in Mpumalanga, bury­ing three workers.

It has become known that the con­tainer they used as a lamp room, in which they were work­ing when the cave-​in hap­pened, should not have been placed so close to the mineshaft.

To this day, Pretty Nkam­bule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyirenda bod­ies remain unrecovered.

A few days after the cat­a­stro­phe, Min­eral Resources Min­is­ter Mosebenzi Zwane promised the fam­i­lies of the three R200 000 each in repa­ra­tions and a fur­ther R50 000 to the 75 min­ers who escaped the dis­as­ter by the skin of their teeth on that fate­ful day.

This was a wind­fall to the affected min­ers, whose R12 500 salary was a result of a pro­tracted stand-​off between the mine own­ers and the Asso­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union which, as at Lily, has become the major­ity union in the industry.

The fam­i­lies and the work­ers are yet to see a cent of that money.

In Octo­ber we reported it seemed no one in the Depart­ment of Min­eral Resources remem­bered details of the promise made by Zwane to the work­ers after the mine collapse.

The work­ers wait.

Accord­ing to the busi­ness res­cue firm Sturns, the com­mit­ment runs up to R4.35 million.

Seek­ing to exon­er­ate them­selves, Sturns said at the time: “No one direc­tor, man­age­ment nor a col­lec­tive of direc­tors has the man­date or the limit of author­ity to make such a deci­sion nor was it taken by them.”

Min­is­te­r­ial spokesman Mar­tin Mad­lala responded at the time that his prin­ci­pal had “made the announce­ment jointly with the company”.

There was never any expec­ta­tion that the money would come from the min­istry,” Mad­lala said.

But Sturns then said: “The com­pany there­fore denies these com­mit­ments, but together with the prac­ti­tioner will hon­our the ex gra­tia pay­ments as stated.”

The work­ers wait; the ex gra­tia pay­ments were never made.

In the busi­ness res­cue plan that was lodged on April 7, pub­lished on May 16 and ulti­mately approved on May 25, the word­ing sounds like the inter­ests of the minework­ers are of para­mount con­cern to the drafters of the plan.

Employ­ees need to be paid,” the promise goes, “cred­i­tors need to be paid, and the mine needs to reopen and oper­ate at a profit.”

But the real­ity that hits the work­ers now is that their inter­ests are far down the peck­ing order.

Trade union Sol­i­dar­ity, through its gen­eral sec­re­tary Gideon du Plessis, reg­is­tered this con­cern: “As per the practitioner’s fee struc­ture, the only party that is get­ting rich out of this process is the BRP (busi­ness res­cue prac­ti­tioner) and his team and a delay in the process means more money to them.”

The reopen­ing of the mine and its work­ing at a profit, plus the pos­i­tive spin-​offs that will flow from it, depends on the mine own­ers rais­ing the req­ui­site R200 mil­lion from funders.

The first attempt at secur­ing fund­ing from an Aus­tralian con­cern, Afro­can, fell through at the last minute.

In a July 5 com­mu­nique from the busi­ness res­cue prac­ti­tioner, Rob Dev­ereaux, he con­firmed that this trans­ac­tion “was effec­tive June 1, 2016”.

The “delays in trans­fer­ring of funds” were dis­missed as a minor bump in the road. After this set­back, the nego­ti­a­tions seemed to pro­ceed in a clan­des­tine manner.

Not all stake­hold­ers are au fait with the process. “At the time when the plan was approved, the impres­sion was cre­ated that a firm deal with a fun­der was immi­nent,” Sol­i­dar­ity said.

But in all this scroung­ing for money, every­one but the busi­ness res­cue is mak­ing ends meet.

Lately, Dev­ereaux has not been tak­ing calls from this reporter.

The busi­ness res­cue plan says: “Cer­tain employ­ees may be sec­onded to nearby Bar­brook Mine and will be paid by Bar­brook Mine. Under these cir­cum­stances, there will be no change to their terms and con­di­tions of employment.”

This is just pie in the sky. Work­ers like father-​of-​five King Swenk Fakude and Sibu­siso Khoza loi­ter in the streets, with absolutely noth­ing to do. They haven’t been absorbed into Bar­brook Mine as promised.

The major­ity of these work­ers are affil­i­ated to Amcu, whose leader Joseph Math­un­jwa has also made it a habit not to take calls from this reporter on the matter.

The National Union of Minework­ers (NUM) has a neg­li­gi­ble pres­ence at Lily.

It has con­sis­tently tried to organ­ise pick­ets and marches to the mine and ulti­mately a major march to Zwane’s office.

Through­out the year, all NUM deputy pres­i­dent Joseph Mon­tisetsi has talked about are the demand that the min­is­ter resign as “we blame him for the sit­u­a­tion at Lily”, and the reopen­ing of the mine.

For the mine to reopen, some­one needs to raise the R200m and, in its view, the NUM thinks the gov­ern­ment should step in and con­fis­cate the assets of Van­tage Gold­fields, the own­ers of Lily Mine, to defray the costs of reopen­ing the mine.

Solidarity’s mem­bers are for­tu­nately catered for by their hands-​on union but the mem­ber­ship com­plains that “none of the fol­low­ing (was) paid to retrenched employ­ees: salaries for April and May 2016 and part of June; allowances; over­time pay; notice pay and sev­er­ance packages”.

The BRP vows that “employ­ees that would be retrenched under busi­ness res­cue will receive full retrench­ment pack­ages”. No one, bar the busi­ness res­cue prac­ti­tioner, believes this.

The real­ity on the ground is what Sol­i­dar­ity points to. “Con­trary to the clause refer­ring to job secu­rity, employ­ees are get­ting ter­mi­na­tion let­ters on an ongo­ing basis.”

The clos­est the BRP has come to show­ing a sem­blance of under­stand­ing the dynam­ics of the sit­u­a­tion is cap­tured in these words: “The esti­mated impact on the clo­sure of the mine is 9 000 per­sons. This is based on employ­ees hav­ing to sup­port at least 10 depen­dants in the community.”

They are refer­ring to real flesh-​and-​blood depen­dants such as Duduzile Nyirenda, the mother of Solomon. Her plight gets bleaker with each day that dawns and her son is not recov­ered — dead or alive.

The Sun­day Independent


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