Guptas face revolt from mineworkers as Zwane battles to hang on

Regional managers in the mineral resources department have launched a court action against Zwane and his director general, Thabo Mokoena. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Regional managers in the mineral resources department have launched a court action against Zwane and his director general, Thabo Mokoena. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The Gupta family is battling to protect its interests in the mining sector as workers employed by the family have already embarked on strike action, while Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, an alleged ally of the family, is facing a court action from his own department.

Workers employed at Gupta-owned Optimum Coal in Mpumalanga went on strike last week after the company had failed to pay their September salary on time, according to a report by TimesLive. After contract workers staged a go-slow, they were eventually paid on October 6.

Goodwill Mthombeni chairperson of the National Union of Mineworkers at Optimum, told TimesLive that workers had been caught in a “political war”.

“We are disturbed by the situation. Workers were told that, with the banks closing the accounts, some payments were late,” Mthombeni said.

“Even if there is a political war it shouldn’t affect the employees.”

On Monday, the Guptas won a court bid to keep their business bank accounts open.
The family has struggled to keep its operations running after numerous banks have severed ties with them following allegations of state capture.

READ MORE: Gupta companies get another bank account reprieve

Pretoria high court judge Tati Makgoka instructed the Bank of Baroda to keep Gupta bank accounts open for at least the next two weeks. The bank has been trying to end its relationship with the family since July.

But workers want the family gone, fearing their trouble with the banks may affect employee salaries.

“The Guptas must just go away,” one Optimum employee told TimesLive.

At the Gupta-owned Shiva mine in Mpumalanga, around 208 workers have already lost their jobs. Those employed through labour broker Quatrotec would’ve walked away from the mine on September 29 when Shiva ended its contract with Quatrotec with immediate effect, TimesLive reported.

The workers had allegedly been sacked because they had went on strike despite an interdict from the labour court, according to Shiva chief executive George van der Merwe.

Maja Mphahlele, Matlosana regional co-ordinator for the National Union of Mineworkers, told TimesLive that Shiva was preparing a restructure that would only keep 50% of its existing workforce.

Zwane tries to keep it cool

The Guptas aren’t just facing pressure on the ground. The minister the family handpicked for mineral resources, according to leaked emails, is now looking at revolt from within his own department partly because of his association with the family.

Regional managers in the mineral resources department have launched a court action against Zwane and his director general, Thabo Mokoena, to set aside a decision the two made to reshuffle certain regional manager posts. The managers oversee applications for mining licenses in provinces. There are 8 regional managers who face being shifted. According to Business Day, the reshuffle is allegedly a move to help those with political connections get mining rights. 

Regional managers said in court that Zwane and Mokoena had made the decision without following the law: they are required to consult and give reasons in the public interest, but failed to do so, the managers said.

Those who have resisted the reshuffle are now alleged to be victims of intimidation. Business Day reports that Limpopo regional manager Aaron Kharivhe was attacked and badly injured. Another regional manager Aubrey Tshivhandekano was placed on suspension after being accused of absenteeism.

An insider in the department said the retaliation and insistence to shift regional managers was to make way for corruption.

“There is no other justifiable reason to destabilise the department in this way, the attacks on the regional managers fighting this smacks of desperation to loot,” said an official to Business Day.

The matter is still ongoing in court where the managers are challenging the department’s version of events that most agreed to the reshuffle, but in the meantime the action has heaped more pressure on Zwane.

The minister is seen to be one of the closest Gupta allies in the executive, but mining bosses have already said they want Zwane gone. The family, who did not respond to questions from journalists, is now faced with both striking workers and an embattled minister who lacks support. 

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