Unions fear Aurora is lying about deal

2011-04-16 13:43

Labour unions have shot down a claim that a Chinese mining house has expressed interest in acquiring a controlling stake in controversial mining firm Aurora Empowerment Systems.

Gideon du Plessis, the deputy chairman of trade union Solidarity, disputes the claim that Shandong Gold Mining Company has shown interest in buying a 65% stake in Aurora for $100 million (R685 million).

The claim was made by Aurora’s provisional liquidator, Enver Motala, when he addressed the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources this week on efforts to find a buyer for Aurora’s struggling Orkney and Grootvlei mines.

Aurora is owned by President Jacob Zuma’s nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, and former president Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Zondwa Mandela.

Du Plessis said: “We do not believe it is true that Shandong would be willing to pay R685 million for a run-down mine.”

The meeting with the portfolio committee came at a time when Aurora’s employees are still owed a total of R12 million by the miner, according to Du Plessis.

“This amount includes pay-as-you-earn tax, Unemployment Insurance Fund and pension provident fund contributions and union subscription fees; monies that were supposed to be paid to relevant authorities but were not,” he said.

Du Plessis spoke to City Press as Solidarity was handing food parcels to Aurora’s cash-strapped labourers on Thursday in Springs, east of Johannesburg.

Khulubuse Zuma raised eyebrows when the Sunday Times reported last week that he had donated R1 million to the ANC while Aurora’s workers had still not been paid.

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesman Lesiba Seshoka was also skeptical about the claim that Shandong was about to take over the Orkney and Grootvlei mines.

“It is hard to believe,” he said. “We have been told lies several times since 2009. They have been telling us since 2009 they will pay workers ‘next week’. It has been ‘next week’ since 2009.”

Motala told the portfolio committee that a delegation from Shanghai-listed Shandong was expected to visit South Africa by the end of this month to carry out a due-diligence exercise on the Orkney and Grootvlei mines.

Aurora has been battling to raise funds to operate the mines, which have been in liquidation since 2009.

In an interview with City Press, Motala accused the unions of talking hogwash.

“The unions are talking rubbish and lies by saying they do not believe that Shandong has expressed interest in acquiring a majority stake in Aurora,” said Motala.

“The unions were there in Parliament, but they failed to ask me any questions regarding Shandong because the information I presented was factual,” he said.

He said he was in possession of two letters from Shandong.

“The first letter speaks about Shandong’s commitment to the deal and the second about Shandong having adequate funds for the transaction,” said Motala.

He declined to show City Press the letters, saying that Shandong was a listed company and its share price could be affected if details of the letters were published.

Attempts through email to get a comment from Shandong on whether it did in fact plan to invest in Aurora were unsuccessful.

Du Plessis said Motala addressed the portfolio committee for one-and-a-half hours and the unions had no time to cross-examine him.

When City Press visited the living quarters of the miners at Grootvlei mine on Thursday, the building was dilapidated and had dysfunctional toilets and showers.

Aurora labourer Alphos Mabunda, who had worked for the firm since 1999, said the living quarters used to accommodate about 2 500 workers and their families. “Now there are only about 200 of us who stay here,” he said. He had been trying without success to find a job and had been forced to stay in the mine’s living quarters because he had nowhere to go.

“I am also waiting for my Unemployment Insurance Fund money, which Aurora collected from us but never paid to the fund,” Mabunda said.

Another labourer, Anton Metelan (58), said he was too old to look for another job.

“I hope the mine becomes operational again and hires me. I am struggling to survive and I cannot afford to go home to Mozambique as I do not have money,” Metelan said.

A security guard at the Grootvlei mine’s entrance shut the boom gate and turned his back on us when he realised we were journalists.

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