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The Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources has been briefed that more than 4 000 workers from four coal mines in Mpumalanga could find themselves unemployed by the end of March, should the business rescue practitioners (BRP) fail to secure transactional banking facility for the mines. They are Optimum, Brakfontein, Idwala and Koorenfotein.

Mr Louis Kloppers, Senior Business Rescue Practitioner, said the situation is currently untenable and messy, in which the mines operate without a transactional banking facility. They are currently utilising the services of the Bank of Baroda which has since announced that it will end its operation in South Africa by the end of March 2018. “If the mines will be without a banking facility by the end of March, it will be the end, and more than 4 000 workers could lose their jobs,” said Mr Kloppers.

The problems at the four mines came to the fore in February this year when workers at Optimum mine embarked on a strike to demand salaries and answers with regard to the future of the mine. Mr Kloppers says the manner in which the mining group, Tegeta Exploration and Resources Pty Ltd, operated from the start, prior the appointment of a business rescuer, is indicative that the owners used the mine as their piggy bank for their own personal benefit.

The Business Rescue Practitioners briefed the committee on the latest developments with regard to the four mines, following a request by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) for the committee to intervene in order to save these jobs. Accordingly, the committee was pleased to hear that there is sufficient money to sustain operations at the mines and that the stakeholders were cooperating. “The only thing the mines need urgently is the transactional banking facility,” said Mr Kloppers.

With regard to the late payment of salaries and suppliers by the mines, Mr Kloppers attributed the delay to a dispute between Eskom and the mines, in which Eskom withheld its payment due to non-delivery of coal. However, he reassured the committee that all workers and suppliers have since been paid, since he has been appointed 10 days ago.

Meanwhile, the NUM said the situation at Optimum mine started to deteriorate back in 2016, when Tegeta took over the ownership of the mine from Glencore Coal. Its branch Chairperson, Mr Khulule Mthombeni, said maintenance of equipment at the time was stopped. “Social labour plan (SLP) projects started by Glencore Coal, including a community clinic and bursaries for employees, were also stopped,” said Mr Mthombeni.

By Justice Molafo
7 March 2017