Wrangling leaves miners in limbo

Flies buzz around the small room as a pot of offal boils on a small gas cooker on the floor. In the corner of the makeshift kitchen stands an engine in a black pool of oil. The two doorways leading off from the kitchen are closed with shower curtains, and a narrow bed with an indented mattress is just visible through the one.

This is the scene in one of the rooms at Hostel Three at Blyvooruitzicht. A mineworker, who asks not to be named and cannot speak English, lives here.

His son, who is visiting from Cape Town, explains his father’s situation: “Last week the other miners called my father and told him to come back [from the Transkei]. He came back, and there’s still no work.”

The miners, who have been without work since August last year, when the mine went into provisional liquidation, hoped that operations would start again this week.

“We’re in the dark; the only information we hear is from the [Carletonville] Herald or rumours,” said a former mine electrician.

The understanding among mine unions was that Goldrich Holdings would make a payment towards the purchase of the mine on January 13. This, it was hoped, would have meant renewed production.

But Goldrich and the mine’s joint provisional liquidators were this week involved in a legal wrangle, with the liquidators claiming they had not been paid. Goldrich has refuted this and accused the ­liquidators and the mine of “unlawfully evicting” them. On Thursday Goldrich won an urgent application at the Johannesburg high court, allowing it back on to the mine.

“The mine closure is affecting more than 1 600 people,” said George Kgoroyaboco, branch secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers.

Another concern is the pending sale of the houses and infrastructure in the Blyvooruitzicht village to a private company, leading to workers being charged rent and utility fees while they have no income.

“This could result in them becoming destitute,” Kgoroyaboco said.

“Many will be without income from the UIF [the Unemployment Insurance Fund] by the end of April,” said the branch chairperson of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Solomon Makhunga.

A miner in her early 40s said she is her family’s only breadwinner. She receives R1 500 a month from the UIF, but is struggling to care for her wheelchair-bound husband and ­ailing mother.

Deeper in the village, Mozambican George Baulos Masinga sits on a dusty pavement sewing a pair of jeans with an old machine. He has become a tailor to make ends meet, but said he doesn’t make nearly as much as he did at the mine.

Kgoroyaboco said zama zamas (illegal miners) have been killed by mine security, and that there have been other deaths in turf wars between different zama zama factions “who kill one another when they meet on mine property”.

The police confirmed that illegal miners and mine security officials have been killed, but declined to give the number of deaths.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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