Motorist killed in freak accident as unrest erupts over Motsepe mine closure

Several vehicles including those of police were damaged in the protest

13 February 2021 - 12:11 By mpumzi zuzile
A woman died on February 12 2021 during a protest against the closure of Nkomati nickel mine in Mpumalanga by Patrice Motsepe's African Rainbow Minerals.
A woman died on February 12 2021 during a protest against the closure of Nkomati nickel mine in Mpumalanga by Patrice Motsepe's African Rainbow Minerals.
Image: Picture: Thulani Mbele/Sowetan

A motorist was killed and several police vehicles were damaged on Friday when hundreds of people rioted over the closure of one of Patrice Motsepe's mines.

Unrest erupted in Badplaas, near Barberton in Mpumalanga, over the non-renewal of their contracts at Nkomati nickel mine, jointly owner by Motsepe's African Rainbow Minerals and Norilsk Nickel Africa.

In July 2019, Motsepe announced that the mine — on the R541 between Badplaas and Barberton — had recorded a loss of R186m and would be closed.

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brig Leonard Hlathi said six police vehicles, a traffic department vehicle and a provincial government vehicle were damaged by protesters on Friday.

Hlathi said a woman was killed when a truck smashed into eight stationary vehicles. “Two police officers also sustained minor injuries after they were attacked during the protest,” he said.

Hlathi said the protests began in the early hours and demonstrators demanded talks with Nkomati mine managers.

When their demands were unsuccessful, they blockaded roads with rubble, tyres, trees and scrap metal.

Hlathi said protesters pelted police with stones and two officers were injured. Motorists using the Badplaas road were diverted to alternative routes but some decided to wait for the road to be reopened.

“In the midst of the situation, a truck approached the scene and police signalled its driver to stop. To their dismay, the driver proceeded and unfortunately crashed into eight vehicles.

During the accident, a woman was seriously injured to a point where she succumbed to her injuries.”

Police are investigating public violence and malicious damage to property, and they have opened a case of culpable homicide against the truck driver, with an additional charge of reckless and negligent driving. He was arrested and will appear in court soon.

Hlathi said police and other law enforcement agencies are monitoring the situation. “We call on the community to respect the rule of law and stop their rampageous behaviour,” he said.

Mpumalanga police commissioner Lt-Gen Mondli Zuma said people amused by a desire to make names for themselves by breaking the law “should be aware of the grave repercussions of a brief fame, which will be followed by a long-term incarceration”.

Nkomati nickel mine general manager David Malunga said he learned of the protest, about 40km from the mine, when some staff arrived at work late.

However, Malunga said he was not aware the protest was linked to the mine closure. 

He said  employees, host communities, the government and all stakeholders were told in 2019 that the mine had reached the end of its economic life, and a retrenchment process was well advanced.

"Nkomati mine currently employs 500 permanent employees and has approximately 1,000 contractors,” he said. Mining operations would stop by early March.

“This will be followed by the processing operations which will cease towards the end of March,” he said.

  • This article has been updated to reflect Malunga's comments.