/ 27 May 2011

Aurora ducks crisis meeting

Aurora Ducks Crisis Meeting

Embattled mining company Aurora Empowerment Systems pulled out of a major meeting at the last minute on Wednesday night, unsettling all parties and diminishing hopes for a resolution to the crisis at its mines.

The meeting, scheduled for Thursday, included Chinese bidder Shangdong Gold, the joint provisional liquidators and trade union officials.

The reason for the no show is not known as the Aurora directors could not be reached for comment.

“They pulled out late last night,” Gideon du Plessis, the trade union Solidarity spokesperson, said on Thursday morning, “no doubt because of Motala’s dismissal”.

On Monday two of the six liquidators, Enver Motala, and the head of KPMG’s liquidation division, Gavin Gainsford, were dismissed by the master of the North Gauteng High Court, an arm of the department of justice and constitutional development.

Mineable light: Prince Ndzindzwa (18) and his twin, sister, Princess, live with their parents in the Grootvlei mine hostel. The water has been turned off for months and there are no functioning toilets. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Motala said that his dismissal was “unlawful” as it was announced before an inquiry, called for by Solidarity and the National Union of Mineworkers into the liquidators’ conduct, had been finalised. Motala said he had not been given an opportunity to give evidence on the matter and would challenge the decision.

He said that neither he nor Gainsford had been given reasons for their dismissal.

The other liquidators are keeping mum about the issue.

In November last year the Mail & Guardian discovered a letter sent by liquidator Johan Engelbrecht to the rest of the team, warning them that he was preparing a report for the master of the high court regarding the conduct of some of the liquidators. His complaints about the handling of the liquidation were apparently directed at Motala.

The department told the media that the dismissals were to “safeguard the integrity of the liquidation process”.

After his dismissal a fuming Motala told the M&G that without his presence “the Chinese will pack their bags and leave. They think it’s a joke what’s going on here in South Africa.”

But despite his removal, people from Shangdong Gold were seen at the Grootvlei mine on Thursday morning.

Any company that takes over the mines will have a large mess to clean up. When the M&G visited Grootvlei this week the hostels had been all but overrun by Mozambican immigrants, most of whom did not work for the mine. The water was turned off months ago and the toilets were overflowing with faeces.

There has been one suicide and at least four attempted suicides by workers at the mine who have had no income for more than a year.

Many of them are surviving by selling scrap metal from the mines. Some are taking wood from the buildings on the property to use and sell as firewood.

Joseph Nchadayi, a 61-year-old who worked at the mine, said that nothing worked there any more. There was no electricity and workers had to walk almost a kilometre to get water “from the ground”.

The mine’s infrastructure is also in a poor state. The M&G reported last year that the Aurora management had been stripping the mine of headgear and pipes worth millions of rands.

“We have heard it will take 50 years before the mines can start working again,” said Nchadayi.

Aurora’s board has been slated repeatedly by the media for its lack of sensitivity about the workers’ plight. Last year, when confronted by workers’ protests at the Grootvlei mine, director Khulubuse Zuma told the M&G: “Don’t worry. We’ll slaughter a few cows and give them [the workers] a party and they’ll be quiet.”

Zuma is the nephew of President Jacob Zuma. The president’s lawyer, Michael Hulley, and the grandson of Nelson Mandela, Zondwa Mandela, are on the board of directors.

Aurora has been in control of the mines since October 2009. The company stopped paying workers in March 2010 and shut down operations soon afterwards.

Last week Solidarity served a liquidation application on Aurora’s Empowerment Systems in the hope of forcing the miner to pay more than R3-million in outstanding pay to workers. The matter will be heard in the North Gauteng High Court on June 7.