Business rescues batter Barberton miners

EFF councillors Mr Cyril Chuene (left) and Ms Gabisile Nkambule distributed food parcels to representatives of the Nkambule, Mnisi and Nyirenda families at Christmas.

BARBERTON – Vantage Goldfields’ Barbrook Mine has joined Lily Mine in being placed under business rescue as of December 21. The suspension of operations has severely exacerbated the hardships experienced by the already poverty-stricken community.

The approximately 350 mineworkers of Barbrook had a bleak Christmas; they were only paid according to production and not fully remunerated in December.

Management has attributed the decrease in production to restricted access to the premises, due to protests by the community around the mine.

Today marks 335 days since the Lily Mine tragedy on February 5 last year. After operations at this mine was suspended, about 130 workers accepted employment at Barbrook in terms of the business-rescue plan. As they did not take severance packages, they have been hit hard by the suspension of operations at Barbrook.

The first attempt at securing funds for Lily from AfriCan fell through in July. Mr Rob Devereaux of Sturns, the business-rescue practitioner for both mines, told Lowvelder that management might have to make use of “bridging finance which will allow us to meet our various obligations”.

According to Devereaux, negotiations are under way with South African investors with overseas interests to save Lily Mine.

“These are people we know,” he said.

Mr Xolile Mbonambi, acting chief inspector of mines, announced at a meeting of the portfolio committee on mineral resources early in December that the Lily Mine probe was escalated to a public inquiry in terms of Section 66 of the Mine Health and Safety Act. It was reported at the meeting that deputy minister of mineral resources,

Mr Godfrey Oliphant, was given the assurance in October by Vantage Goldfields that outstanding Lily Mine payments would be made by December 15.

A few days after the disaster, mineral resources minister, Mr Mosebenzi Zwane, promised the families of the three dead miners R200 000 each in reparations and a further R50 000 to each of the 75 who were rescued.

Neither Vantage Goldfields nor the government have honoured their commitments.

Workers from both mines are now surviving on food parcels from Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Solidarity’s Helping Hand, non-governmental organisations, and political parties such as the EFF. “They are struggling,” said the party’s councillor, Mr Cyril Chuene. He visited the Nkambule, Mnisi and Nyirenda families on December 23 to distribute food parcels and was able to get their electricity fixed for Christmas Day.

The mothers of the deceased have vowed not to move away until they have received the bodies of their children.

“I spoke to them and they want access to perform rituals to be able to close the chapter.

“They say the mining authorities will not allow them,” explained Chuene.

Mr Gideon du Plessis, spokesman for Solidarity, told Lowvelder that Barbrook’s business rescue and the suspension of all mining operations from Vantage Goldfields have left mineworkers “frustrated”. A meeting will be held on January 11 for all creditors and employees to discuss the business-rescue process of the Barbrook Mine.

* Mr Mike McChesney, CEO of Vantage Goldfields, was not available for comment. His media officer said that a statement would be made next week.

No comment was received from the Department of Mineral Resources at the time of going to press.


Elize Parker
Environmental Journalist Lowvelder

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