On the brink: slow burn at Gupta-owned mines

04 March 2018 - 00:07 By KYLE COWAN
Employees and contract workers of Optimum Coal Mine, owned by the Gupta family, demonstrate against their employers in front of the gates of the mine in Hendrina, Mpumalanga, File photo.
Employees and contract workers of Optimum Coal Mine, owned by the Gupta family, demonstrate against their employers in front of the gates of the mine in Hendrina, Mpumalanga, File photo.
Image: AFP

Employees at four Gupta-owned mines have no overalls, hats and safety gear and have been told to go easy on the milk.

Late payment of salaries has   resulted in debit orders of more than 3000 miners dishonoured, bringing extra  bank charges. In some cases,  workers had to pay rent late. 

A strike by workers at four Gupta-owned  mines this week exposed how the notorious brothers used their  mines as cash cows to strip out money —   thereby endangering the lives of their workers.  

The condition of the mines in Mpumalanga and North West — controversially bought with a R590-million “pre-payment” from Eskom — has come to light after the plight of the workers was highlighted during strikes over late payment of salaries.  All mines have been placed under business rescue.

At Optimum Coal mine in Mpumalanga, machinery has been stripped to fix other broken equipment.  

“The machinery inside the mine is f***ed up. We have zero compared to when we started. They stripped a lot of it,” said a production supervisor who has been at Optimum for 15 years and did not want to be identified for fear of victimisation. 

The supervisor said mineworkers had weathered the storm as various owners had come and gone, but conditions had gone from “better to worse” under the Guptas.

“We don’t even have ballpoint pens, for crying out loud. You have to buy it yourself. Safety equipment like overalls, it’s been two weeks we don’t have any of it. No hard hats or boots.”

The supervisor explained that  even as safety equipment ran out and workers had to share gear among themselves,  there was constant pressure to continue meeting production targets. Supervisors were told to stop making excuses. 

Said another supervisor: “It got to a point where it was emotionally affecting you. The workers I supervise come to me to ask for food, or when they will be paid. Some days I make extra lunch and bring it to work, to feed them. 

“I am overstretching myself as a leader, struggling to make ends meet so that we can work. You are monitored daily on production on what you deliver, but they are not helping you. 

“And if you say we cannot do this or that, you are told you are making excuses.” 

Optimum Coal, Koornfontein, Shiva Uranium and Brakfontein coal mine were placed under business rescue last week as the closure of Gupta accounts with the Bank of Baroda loomed after the bank announced its departure from South Africa. 

Gupta family companies on Thursday asked the High Court in Pretoria to order Baroda to remain in South Africa. Judgment has been reserved until March 12.  

Said business rescue practitioner Louis Klopper: “We have had to rob Peter to pay Paul, which is wrong because now the other businesses are suffering”.

Read the full story in the print edition of the Sunday Times

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