/ 11 February 2011

Aurora puts town at risk of flooding

Controversial mining company Aurora Empowerment Systems has stopped pumping water at its Grootvlei operations in the East Rand of Johannesburg and unless it comes up with at least R20-million quickly, the mine will close.

Aurora employees told the Mail & Guardian that pumping equipment at 3-shaft, which holds the mine’s only pump station, was removed from underground on Sunday and is lying on the mine’s surface.

This means that Aurora needs to reinstall a new pump station before the water reaches a level that is too high for another station. Aurora liquidator Enver Motala said a new station would cost between R20-million and R50-million.

Gideon du Plessis, the spokesperson for workers’ union Solidarity, said Aurora had been battling to raise funds and was unlikely to find this amount of money in time. With the water level rising by a metre a day, it will take five to eight months before the mine is completely flooded.

“If the pump station is flooded, the mine is gone,” Du Plessis said. He estimated R50-million would be needed for a new pump station.

An Aurora employee, who asked not to be named, said: “Even if they build another pump station on another level, they would be able to remove only 20% of the resources.”

A sinister agenda
He said Aurora had six months at most in which to reinstall a pump station, otherwise the mine would be a complete write-off. “And if the shaft floods, the whole town of Nigel will be flooded.”

He believes Aurora’s board has a sinister agenda for removing the pumps. “It’s all politics here,” he said. “From day one, they didn’t want to mine. They just wanted to sell the assets. They can sell the pumps for R1-million each and they removed eight. The pumps are still in [working order], just some of the columns were damaged and they needed to change a few pipes.”

Aurora has been accused before of asset-stripping its mines and in October last year the M&G reported that the company was selling equipment, including headgear, without the approval of the liquidators.

Aurora has been in the spotlight since it halted operations and stopped paying its workers in April 2010. Its board of directors includes Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Zondwa Mandela, and President Jacob Zuma’s nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, as well as the president’s attorney, Michael Hulley.

The M&G understands that officials from Gold One, a mining company with operations adjacent to Aurora’s, are in negotiations with Aurora’s management about pumping. If the Grootvlei operation floods, then at least one of Gold One’s shafts will also have to be written off.

Mining water expert Mariette Liefferink said: “To build a new pumping station, you have to order pumps that take months to arrive and you need to do an environmental impact assessment. I am told they are 60 metres from flooding. They are going to lose their pump station and their entire gold reserve, yet they state that they will be reinstalling a pump station. It will cost millions. It’s irrational.”

Linda Page, the spokesperson for the water affairs department, said there was “currently no danger of any flooding” and that the department was “monitoring the water levels”.

Aurora did not respond to the M&G‘s questions.