Motsepe tours blast factory

2008-02-25 00:00

Patrice Motsepe, the tycoon whose company part owns Assmang at Cato Ridge, where five workers died after an explosion on Sunday, was confronted by grief-stricken workers yesterday.

The workers protested in the factory grounds and forced open the gates to let journalists in, after the media were barred by management.

Motsepe, chairman of African Rainbow Minerals, which owns 50% of Assmang, flew from Johannesburg to assess the situation after the blast, and met with management and local politicians.

After a meeting with management and unions, Motsepe said he cannot allow the factory to operate at the expense of people’s lives.

“We cannot sacrifice human lives in the name of profits. We cannot tolerate that, we will not tolerate that. If there is danger we must shut down operations. We won’t tolerate accidents, the working environment should improve.”

He expressed concern about working conditions and the relationship between management and workers. “If we talk about a better life … change should begin at work.”

He said management must take the workers’ points of view into consideration.

“This is a country for all of us, and we want to create a future for everybody. I need to emphasise that the experience of the workers is very important, and we need to significantly improve working conditions.”

Motsepe said a sense of “comfort and confidence” needs to be established among the workers.

“It’s about being genuine: you can’t fool the workers and we are not representing the interests of shareholders if there is no zero tolerance towards [poor] safety.”

He promised that families of the deceased and employees will receive counselling.

On the inquiry into the accident, he said he hopes the “outcome … reflects a commitment to safety”.

Willie Greyling, engineer and director of GLPS Project Management and Engineering Services, said it is very possible that a water leakage caused the explosion.

It is not yet certain what caused the leak into the furnace. The furnace that exploded had been turned off earlier because it was unsuitable for use, but when the night shift workers came in later, someone turned it back on again.

Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana has condemned the death of the workers and vowed to get someone to account for the deaths and injuries.

The five workers who died — another died early yesterday — were named as Alfred Mtolo (53), Isaac Gcumisa (51), Vusi Kubheka, Bhekithemba “Keto” Ndlovu and Samora Maduna.

Labour Department spokeswoman Zolisa Sigabi confirmed that preliminary investigations indicate that a water leak into the furnace sparked the blast, which caused a wall of the control room to collapse and flames to engulf the room.

She added that the department has set up a high-level investigation and ordered a halt to operations in parts of the plant. Once an inquiry has been completed, labour inspectors will submit their report to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a decision on whether to institute criminal charges.

In a separate incident, Nolwazi Mncwabe, an employee at the factory, broke down with grief yesterday while waiting for management’s report, when she received the news of her father’s death, allegedly of manganism.

Her father was admitted to hospital a while ago with suspected manganese poisoning. Mncwabe was working in his place.

sandilez@witness.co.za.

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