SA goldmine fires 1,500 strikers

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SOUTH AFRICAN mining company Sibanye Gold has fired around 1,500 workers for taking part in a wildcat strike at its Cooke mine.

The decision, announced last Thursday, 16 June, prompted an angry reaction from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Workers at the mine downed tools over two weeks ago, angered by a company drive to root out illegal miners. The campaign has resulted in the arrest of employees for collusion and taking food down to the illegal miners working underground.

Illegal gold mining has been a big issue in South Africa for decades, with bullion dug from both disused and operating mines. Sibanye has vowed it will clear all illegal miners – also known as ‘Zama Zamas’ from its shafts by January 2018. The Cooke mine employs close to 4,000 underground miners and Sibanye said the sacked workers could appeal their dismissals.

Earlier, the NUM said nearly 2,000 miners were fired, including 1,100 of its members, who it said had been ‘wrongly dismissed’. Sibanye said 793 NUM members had been sacked. The NUM alleged that its members had been forced to take part in the strike in the face of coercion and intimidation from rival union the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

Over 240 illegal miners have been arrested since the stoppage began. AMCU officials rejected the accusations. The illegal miners were forced to come to the surface because of the strike, which had emptied the shafts of employees, thereby starving them of their sources of food and water underground – an unintended consequence of the strike.

The Cooke mine, which is located in Randfontein, produces about 181,700 ounces of gold a year and brings in around R377-million in operating profit. Sibanye’s story is company-specific, but headlines on mining dismissals have become common in recent years. There’s fear the revised Mining Charter, gazetted last week, could worsen the problem.

The Chamber of Mines claims the industry lost around 70,000 jobs between 2012 and 2016, with both commodity prices and net investment in decline. However, the NUM said in a statement: ‘The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) welcomes the recently Gazetted Amended Mining Charter in terms of Section 100 of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002, this brings to an end more than 24 months of towing back and forth since the maturity of the 2014 Mining Charter targets.

‘The NUM would like to also put on record the fact that we have held six or more formal consultations with the Department of Mineral Resources since the April 2016 gazetting of the draft mining charter, we’re both parties that reflected and exchanged various ideas and proposals on a transformed mining industry.

‘It is also important to emphasise the importance of lowering socio-economic inequalities currently structured on racial lines, where black South Africans are still remaining on the periphery. Thus, economic empowerment should always place significance on broad-based inclusive equitable ownership, which should benefit employees and communities at large.’

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has been summoned by the ruling party The African National Congress’s economic transformation committee to explain the new charter. Presidential spokesman Zizi Kodwa said: ‘The ANC is very concerned about the impact legislation could have in terms of employment, given that the mining sector lost 60,000 jobs over the last five years. So, if there’s 30% black ownership it mustn’t lead to a jobs bloodbath.’

In 2016, the mining industry directly employed over 450,000 people. The Chamber of Mines will go to court to interdict the new charter, claiming Zwane barely consulted the industry before he introduced the new regulations last Thursday.

• The National Transport Movement (NTM) and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) have warned of mass action unless those implicated in a web of corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) are brought to book.

Speaking at a media briefing at the NTM offices in Johannesburg on Monday, NTM general secretary Ephraim Mphahlele called for the arrest of those implicated in crooked contracts, tenders, and corruption at the state-owned entity (SOE). He also called for the resignations of President Jacob Zuma, transport minister Joe Maswanganyi, and deputy finance minister Sfiso Buthelezi.

Mphahlele said that Prasa’s board should be allowed to conduct their investigation into the siphoning off of billions of rands without being dissolved by Maswangayi, as it is a political manoeuvre to stop corrupt individuals from being held accountable.

Mphahlele said: ‘The Prasa board is reportedly investigating 142 contracts, worth R24bn, for possible corruption. Yet the transport minister, Joe Maswangayi, has now written to its members terminating their membership.’ In March 2017, the previous transport minister, Dipuo Peters, tried to dissolve the Prasa board as well.

This was overruled by a high court order which ruled that the decision was irrational and irregular.

In 2015, criminal charges laid by the Prasa board against former Prasa Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Lucky Montana, over tenders proved unsuccessful.

Some of the tenders awarded during Montana’s tenure were worth more than R7bn, including one in which the incorrect locomotives were bought and found to be too big for South African railways. Deputy Finance Minister Sfiso Buthelezi and his brother, Nkanyezi Buthelezi, are alleged in the #GuptaLeaks to be the direct beneficiaries of the companies that secured contracts worth at least R150m from Prasa.

This was allegedly during Buthelezi’s tenure as Prasa board chairperson, an allegation Prasa board chair Popo Molefe also wants to be investigated. On March 31, Buthelezi was appointed deputy finance minister by Zuma as part of his cabinet reshuffle which saw former finance minister, Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, removed from the finance portfolio.

According to Mphahlele, allegations about corruption at the rail operator were initially made five years ago by the NTM, and they were reported to the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigations (Hawks). Former public protector Thuli Madonsela also gave evidence of corruption in her report.

NTM and SAFTU raised concerns over the failure of the Hawks and the NPA to act despite evidence from the former public protector’s report, and a stern letter from Prasa board chair Popo Molefe to former Hawks head, Berning Ntlemeza, in February.

Craig Nte, the deputy secretary general of NTM said: ‘The actions of the Hawks are criminal. There is a legal mandate for them to act on any criminal activity when it is reported to them. This situation is more than five years old, but it is still not being acted on.’

Speaking to 702’s Stephen Grootes on Monday afternoon, SAFTU acting spokesperson Patrick Craven said: ‘There is strong evidence that there is movement behind the scenes from government to make sure that these allegations are never properly investigated.

SAFTU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said that it was becoming increasingly obvious that those with evidence against kingpins in the web of corruption and state capture, could not go to the Hawks. Vavi said: ‘Even when this current board of Prasa goes to the high court exposing lack of action of Hawks, nothing will happen because they want to protect those responsible for pillaging the purse that belongs to the people of this country as a whole.’

Nte said those at the receiving end of the benefits of their corruption included Montana, the whole executive at Prasa under the watch of the former chairperson of the board – saying more names could also be found in the publicly accessible report titled ‘Derailed’.

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane also came under fire from Vavi, with Mphahlele saying she is too selective in certain matters. Said Mphahlele: ‘She is delaying investigating or not investigating at all. We are concerned with regards to the manner in which she is going about her business, she is out of order and must fulfil her obligations of investigating without favour or fear.’

Molefe has vowed to continue his fight against corruption, going as far as launching a court application to force the Hawks to investigate the allegations said to be crippling the agency. The Hawks intend to oppose this, it is reported.