Staff targeted in platinum theft ruckus

Eight employees at the Lonmin process division smelter in Marikana, near Rustenburg, have been suspended after refusing a company demand to declare their assets.

A letter dated September 16 gave 29 employees suspected of platinum theft five days to “make a full and frank disclosure” of a range of items, including motorcycles, houses, watches and “expensive designer clothing”, and to supply monthly bank statements dating back to January 2008 and tax returns from 2007. The company, which also asked for details of the employees’ business interests, failed to explain why this information was required and how it would assist them.

The names and ID numbers of the 29 employees were on a list signed by Eric Moiloa, a precious metals investigator at Lonmin, and sent to a “Capt Karina” on April 19.

Eight employees refused to declare their assets, instead lodging a group grievance with company management for what they described as “unfair discrimination, defamation of character and violation of human rights”. Five were served with suspension letters, which did not state their alleged misconduct.

Events at the Marikana facility come in the wake of a spate of physical attacks on Lonmin employees in Brakpan by intruders claiming to be looking for platinum. Similar attacks have been taking place in Rustenburg as well.

One employee said he was attacked by seven heavily armed men in police uniform at his Rustenburg apartment at around 9pm one evening in April 2011. The employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of victimisation, claims he was taken to some bushes near Marikana, where he was assaulted and tortured for four hours.

“I reported the issue to the management and they did nothing about it. I was surprised when [chief executive officer] Ian Farmer sent us a memo [stating] that the company had assisted the affected employees by providing counselling services and by laying criminal charges with SAPS [South African Police Service],” he said. He said he had received no help at all.

He added: “I used to give Eric [Moiloa] feedback on my case because I was not aware that he was investigating me.” He found his name on the April 19 list signed by Moiloa.

An employee who has worked at Lonmin for 26 years says the attacks on employees gained momentum in 2009, after Moiloa was transferred from the Lonmin Western Refinery in Brakpan to Rustenburg.

“The company has jeopardised our safety by giving our personal information to these people, because now we are being attacked, we live in fear and my family is not safe anymore,” he said.

“We don’t understand why the company is requesting us to make disclosure of our assets; are they saying we can’t drive flashy cars?

“The company is paying us enough money to buy flashy cars, but we have to drive old cars because if you buy a new car at this company, you’re suspected of platinum theft.”

Sue Vey, a senior consultant at Financial Dynamix, speaking on behalf of Lonmin, said: “Lonmin has been working with the SAPS for many months to combat organised platinum theft and associated corruption, an issue affecting the entire mining sector. Arrests this week stemmed from a successful investigation by the police. SAPS expects further arrests to follow and the company cannot comment in detail on an ongoing police investigation.

“The security and safety of our employees, their communities and our operations is paramount. Lonmin does not and has never sanctioned the abuse of staff and any suggestion to the contrary is completely false.”

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