News

Charl Pienaar
5 minute read
22 Jan 2020
1:20 pm

Mashaba supports Lily Mine families to lawyer up against the state and the mine

Charl Pienaar

The mining company claims there's a smear campaign, but the former Johannesburg mayor alleges there's an unethical relationship between company and state.

Herman Mashaba. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark.

Last Wednesday, politician, entrepreneur and founder of the People’s Dialogue, Herman Mashaba, guaranteed monetary and legal aid to the forsaken miners’ families, Lowvelder reported.

Today, he said he had made good on that promise.

Last week he said: “I was there yesterday on invitation of the community. There is an evil plaguing these people and I cannot sit in the background and do nothing. My role in this matter will be to act as the facilitator; to liaise with the lawyers in Johannesburg and to provide funding,” Mashaba said.

“I will get the top lawyers in the country. I want to make sure that the bodies of the missing miners are retrieved and all outstanding monies owed to the deceased must be paid to their families,” he added.

However, Mike McChesney, the CEO of Vantage Goldfields (VGO), told Lowvelder he only got word of Mashaba’s visit from the security company at the mine.

“I would like to speak to Mashaba, as his perception of the situation might be blocked by certain misrepresentations made, because I don’t know who he is going to be fighting. It is very good and kind of him to try and help the families; it means we have the same objective and we are on the same page. I am sure this is just a smear campaign against Vantage Goldfields SA (VGSA), initiated by our opposition.”

In a statement by Mashaba on Wednesday, however, he alleged there was an unethical relationship between Vantage Goldfields and government, “and possibly senior politicians in their shareholding”.

This, he said, was the only explanation for the “obstruction and intimidation” experienced by the community over the past four years.

He said representatives of the families and former mine workers had come to Johannesburg to meet the legal teams that would be assisting them going forward. The focus of these legal efforts would be to serve papers on the mining company, as well as the departments of minerals and energy and labour, to compel them to provide closure.

“Our objective through this legal process will be to ensure that the bodies of the three trapped former miners are retrieved, and outstanding wages owing to the former workers are paid. I would like to see the legal teams, through this process, hold these government departments to account for their failure and seek a shareholding of the mining company operating Lily Mines.”

Tragedy struck Lily Mine on 5 February 2016, when the entrance to the mine’s shaft collapsed, burying three workers: Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyirenda. They were working in a container, serving as a lamp room, that was swallowed during the cave-in.

The department of mineral resources subsequently instructed VGO to close the mine, at least until the workers’ bodies were recovered. VGO operates the Lily and Barbrook Mines, situated near Barberton in Mpumalanga.

Numerous rescue missions were undertaken and abandoned after conditions were deemed too risky and, consequently, the bodies were never recovered from their subterranean grave. This eventually led to the mines being placed under business rescue. Mining operations ceased and Makonjwaan Imperial Mining Company, a subsidiary of VGO, was unable to pay its debts.

Mashaba said on Wednesday: “It took more than two years for former miners to get the police to finally open a docket, with allegations that the mine was deemed structurally unsafe prior its collapse. It is unlawful to not report the death of people under these circumstances.

“A court order was granted to restrict them from trying to retrieve the bodies of the three deceased miners, while illegal mining continues unabated.”

He said structures in which the community were living had been set alight and a bomb explosion took place nearby.

“They have been the subject of intimidation and victimisation at every step of the way. While corporate haggling over the business rescue case continues, basic justice and dignity have been denied to these South Africans.”

On September 25 last year, the High Court in Johannesburg barred Robert Charles Devereux and Daniel Terblanche, in their capacity as the business rescue practitioners (BRP), from implementing the debt rescue plan adopted by the creditors of VGO, Barbrook Mines and Makonjwaan Imperial Mining Company (MIMCO).

The application was brought by Arqomanzi, which was created by the amalgamation by Siyakhula Sonke Corporation (SSC) and Taung Gold, to declare that the business rescue plans had failed as approved by the BRPs on May 25, 2016 for MIMCO, February 16, 2017 for VGO and August 6, 2018 for Barbrook Mine respectively.

In September 2019, SCC and its subsidiary Flaming Silver (FS), attempted to enforce a sales of shares agreement between FS and VGSA on 1 November 2017, in an appeal application to the full bench of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court. The appeal was dismissed with costs.

The judgment paved the way for VGO to complete the sale of a 100% stake in its wholly owned subsidiary VGSA to Real Win Investments (RWI).

It was alleged in a 22 September City Press article that Arqomanzi had provided proof of funds to the amount of R472 million by 5 September to reopen the mines and settle its debts to the satisfaction of the Barbrook and Lily mines Creditors’ Committee, while RWI opted not to declare its position.

McChesney argued that “the Barbrook and Lily Creditors’ Committee has no legal status and is merely a small group of frustrated creditors”.

Currently, VGSA is facing pending litigation in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA). The SCA was petitioned on the basis that FS is of the belief that acting judge Hendrik Roelofse erred in his judgment when he declared the agreement between VGSA and FS null and void.

VGSA filed its answering affidavit at the SCA on 17 September, according to McChesney. He stated that his legal team awaits a response as to whether the application will be heard at all.

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