Aurora Mines crisis; Discussion on Interdepartmental Task Team on Ex-Mineworkers; Committee Programme

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Mineral Resources and Energy

16 August 2011
Chairperson: Mr F Gona (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee discussed the developments surrounding the Aurora Empowerment System’s operations at Orkney and Grootvlei Mines. A letter from the attorney’s representing the Provisional Liquidators was presented and articulated their absence from the day’s meeting at which they had been expected to attend. The ANC suggested sending them a letter to schedule a future appearance, and noted that they had much to explain to the Committee.
The Committee remarked on the need to address the issue of outstanding worker payments, which Aurora owed its employees from a considerable time ago. The planned takeover of the mines by a joint venture between BEE and a Chinese group was acknowledged by the Committee, but many questions remained on both the status of the situation altogether. Among these were concerns about living and working conditions.

The Committee stated its intention to interact with mining communities on an upcoming oversight visit to Limpopo. Members from the ANC and IFP suggested additional mines and communities to visit. Concerns were raised about being able to trace ex-mine workers who were still owed payments.
Members expressed concerns over those ex-mine workers who could not be traceable, asserting that the Inter-Departmental Task Team did not fulfill its promise that they would keep the Committee informed of the progress made regarding payments of these workers.
The Committee agreed to work on an action plan during their next scheduled meeting. They adopted minutes from 26 July 2011 and 10 August 2011 before adjourning.

Meeting report

Discussion on Aurora Mines Crisis
The Chairperson noted that in terms of the programme the Committee was supposed to make a follow-up on matters relating to the Orkney and Grootvlei Mines run by Aurora Empowerment Systems. The Committee would also be briefed about Provisional Liquidators who were handling the matter at the behest of the Master of the High Court; the Committee would also be briefed by labour movements such as National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Solidarity. The Committee had received a letter dated 11 August 2011 from John Walker Attorneys, and it was read by the Chairperson.  It sought to inform the Committee that the Joint Provisional Liquidators would be unable to attend the meeting of the Portfolio Committee scheduled on 17 August 2011, as they were expected to appear in the High Court on the same day. The other letter emailed to the Committee on 15 August 2011 by Aurora Empowerment Systems indicated its unavailability for the sitting with the Portfolio Committee on the 17 August 2011. This was due to Pomodzi Gold Mining Operations being taken back by the Joint Provisional Liquidators on the 26 May 2011. The letter cited that Aurora had no say in any future running of the mine and were busy addressing the issue of the outstanding salaries, which would be resolved within the next three weeks. The Chairperson commented that as a result of the unavailability of these two companies, the Committee would be unable to go ahead with its planned interaction with the two. The first letter from the attorneys raised more questions than answers. It nullified whatever information the Committee shared with Mr Enver Motala (former Liquidator), who at the time claimed he was speaking on behalf of the other Liquidators. Concern was raised about the fact that they were not making a commitment to come at a later date. It sufficed to say that they believed these matters were not for public consumption unless decided by the Master of the High Court. He asked the Committee members for their views on the matter.

Mr E Lucas (IFP) asked if copies of the letter could be distributed so that Members could take a closer look at it.

The Chairperson said these would be made available.

Ms F Bikani (ANC) commented that regardless whether the two entities had indicated their future availability or not, it should not stop Members from requesting they appear before the Committee, or letting them know of Committee‘s expectations. The last time the Committee met them, they did not finish their presentation because of its length. The Committee might even engage them on their report because they still owed the Committee some explanations as to why the Liquidator was also fired. She also raised concerns on workers payments owed by Aurora. The presentation made by NUM and Solidarity indicated responsibilities supposed to be taken up by Aurora and complications the workers had experienced. In light of all of this there was a need to call a meeting between the two entities and the Committee. She recommended that a letter should be sent to both entities asking them to indicate when they would be available for a meeting with Committee.

Mr M Sonto (ANC) understood that the provisional liquidators needed to be in court today, but needed more clarity on who was fooling who. Mr Motala had made a lengthy presentation to the Committee but now that presentation was being rubbished. The Committee needed clarity on who was representing who in this process. A follow-up was needed.

Mr E J Marais (DA) shared the same sentiments with Ms Bikani concerning the plight of workers and with Mr Sonto about the need for clarity on representation.

The Chairperson stated that the Committee needed to be strong on this matter, as the letter raised some worrying issues. The Provisional Liquidators needed to be compelled to come before the Committee. This matter had been in their hands for about three years and it concerned the lives of people. He articulated that the Committee was not handling this matter for the sake of handling it, but rather that the issue was raised by the public and people’s lives were being affected. It was necessary to find out what money was owed to the workers and by whom, and when they would be paid. It was noted that the Department of Labour administered these funds. Aurora had stated in April that ithad money available and was ready to pay, but now the letter said it would only be able to pay in three weeks. In that time, Aurora was pushed by a Compliance Court order sought by the Department of Labour. They still had to explain to the Committee jointly with the union what was owed to whom and whether it would be payable or not.
The Chairperson remarked that a reoccurrence of this situation should be prevented. It was necessary to have clarity on this matter. The ball had been thrown between the Department of Mineral Resources, the Department of Labour and the Department of Water Affairs, and there was no clarity on who should take responsibility for what. There were some developments since the meeting in April- Mr Motala and others had been removed from the Provisional Liquidators by the Master of the High Court. Other Committee concerns related to the extension of the time period in terms of what was needed to be done by these two mines. Application by the Provisional Liquidators had been submitted to the Master of the High Court and the extension granted meant that this matter had been prolonged, although for good or bad reasons it was not known. The new Provisional Liquidators appointed by the Master of the High Court terminated the contract with Aurora Empowerment Systems and had taken back the operation of those two mines. Lately, the Committee had been informed through media that there was a new venture involving a Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) partnership with a Chinese group bidding to take over the two assets. Their intention was to inject a sum of R1 billion rand as an investment in order to get the mines back into operation. The capital layout required there was quite huge. The Chinese and BEE partnership was now prepared to take over, and was now before the authorities for approval. More than 2500 jobs would now be preserved. People who had been working there who had not been paid, who had been technically laid off, would now be rehired. He also asked whether the two mines employed 2500 employees or was it more than 5000 people who were employed. He further asked if those two entities intended to re-employ all the former employees when the mines went back into operation. Those were some of the lingering questions of the Committee. Most importantly in writing back to them, the Committee needed to quote the relevant laws and provisions of the Constitution and state that they should appear before the Committee. The court case they were defending had been about having these matters in the public domain. They had been in the public domain in any event. The Aurora issue had been reported by media time and again.

Ms Bikani noted some environmental complications, specifically working and appalling living conditions, arising from the situation and said these needed to be looked at. In addition, she said the Committee needed to find out what resolutions were taken to remedy the situation. She recalled there were complaints about power cuts, the bad state of bathrooms, and the hole the people were working on had a water burst.

Mr Lucas said that the employees had suffered more than anyone but the Committee should wait until after the workers were paid to look into these issues. Nevertheless, he said the matter must be made public.
Committee Programme
The Chairperson remarked that space would be made in the programme for the Provisional Liquidators to come in, saying it would most likely be in September. He noted that an oversight visit to Limpopo from 5-9 September 2011 was scheduled in order to see the mines. So far the Committee had decided to visit Sekhukhune region. The Committee would check for compliance with relevant mining laws and codes, and interact with local communities to get a better idea of what was happening.

Ms N Mathibela (ANC) asked if a Maleoskop mine in Sekhukhune could be added to the oversight trip.

Ms Bikani suggested visiting Royal Bafokeng mine in the North West Province if the schedule permitted it. She also noted reports of heating problems at the mine.

The Chairperson said that these places could be added to the programme but noted logistical problems in getting to all of them. He emphasised the importance of meeting with the mining communities and interacting at the mines themselves. Recently, the Deputy President was invited to cut a ribbon on the road built by two mines in Limpopo. The Committee would have to briefly visit that road as well as those two mines. Those success stories would encourage other mines to follow the example. The Committee considered visiting the Modica mine in Grobbersdaal and Maleoskop mine in Sekhukhune.The Chairperson continued with the programme, noting the public hearings on the Mining Charter scheduled for next week. There was a lengthy list of prospective participants. Invitations would be extended to the Chamber of Mines, NUM, Solidarity, the South African Mining Development Association (SAMDA), the South African Women in Mining Association (SAWIMA), other women’s groups and mining communities from various provinces, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). He further said that if a member had a recommendation for a certain group that should be invited, they should suggest it. He added that the hearings would be over two days.

Mr Lucas suggested inviting a mining community from Newcastle.

The Chairperson instructed Mr Lucas to provide the Committee Secretary with the contact details for his invitee.

Mr Marais asked how many people would be allowed to go on the trip to Limpopo, as well as if there was additional information about the people scheduled to appear on 22 and 23 September.

The Chairperson said he was still waiting for a response with regard to the oversight trip. He agreed that the programme should be more detailed about 22 and 23 September so that all Members would be informed of what was going on.

Mr Lucas alluded to a prior Committee visit to inspect illegal gold mining and said there had not been feedback on that. He said the illegal market had to be destroyed.

The Chairperson said an update would be requested from the Ministry. He added that it would be a great concern if the prevalence of illegal mining escalated.

Mr N Mtshale (ANC) suggested a visit to a retired veteran Mr John Nkadimeng, whom he described as a hero who fought many battles in the country and no longer belonged to the ANC but to the country as a whole.

The Chairperson also suggested other retired heroes and heroines of the ANC be visited as well. He further mentioned a letter from the Department of Labour together with the Inter-Departmental Task Team inviting both the Committees on Mining and Labour to a briefing on the 23 August 2011, on the progress made on payments to ex-mine workers. The venue would be M514 Marks Building.

Discussion on the Interdepartmental Task Team on Ex-Mineworkers
Ms Bikani expressed concerns over those ex-mine workers who could not be traceable, asserting that the Inter-Departmental Task Team did not fulfill its promise that they would keep the Committee informed of the progress made regarding payments of these workers. At some stage they indicated to the Committee that there was a reduction in the number of people who had not yet been paid. They had been making the issue a project and had been raising budget concerns with no clear time frames, strategies, and guidelines to what had to be done. There was fear that money allocated for payments could be misused.

The Chairperson shared the same sentiments with Ms Bikani and expressed that the Inter-Departmental Task Team did not make efforts to trace people. Previously, many assets were accumulated as a result of unclaimed benefits, and had been reluctant to use the TEBA employment agency for mining sectors countrywide and beyond. TEBA deliberately set up offices to recruit for the mining industry. The Committee needed to look at the efforts being made to trace people with outstanding payments. There was concern that sharp-thinking officials within the government would think of outsourcing this work to some entity that must undertake tracing. This would mean they would take a chunk of this money under the pretext that they were tracing while this could have been done more easily through conventional means. Also this Inter-Departmental Task Team had only been focusing in the Eastern Cape and had ignored the rest of the country.

Ms Mathibela expressed that she also shared similar views with Ms Bikani and the Chairperson. The problem with some people was that previously, their Dompass did not have their age, only the numbers appeared, and when recruiters employed people there was no name of the person. The Inter-Departmental Task Team only concentrated in Eastern Cape, while most of the people were from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Those people were not known.

The Chairperson expressed that the matter would hopefully be finalised in the next meeting scheduled for 23 August 2011, and they needed to be compelled to create an action plan.

Adoption of Committee Minutes
The Committee perused page by page through the minutes checking any possible errors. Members adopted the minutes dated 26 July 2011 and the minutes dated 10 August 2011 with minor amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.


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