Backlash brews at dodgy mine

2010-10-17 10:18

War looms on controversial mine boss Phemelo Sehunelo’s Chambua mine.

This comes as workers and the community threaten to march on the mine this week, while shareholders in Sehunelo’s Mistyfalls?45 – which owns the lucrative prospecting rights on Lohatla farm near Postmasburg in the Northern Cape – ­accuse one another of shady dealings to usurp control.

To top it all, the mine does not have a mining licence and accusations abound that it flouts mine safety laws.

Sehunelo is the founder of ICT, the company which controversially secured 21.4% of Sishen mine’s multibillion- rand prospecting rights, and will be fighting the matter in court soon.

ICT associates include the president’s son Duduzane Zuma and the Gupta family.

ICT later became the key shareholder in ArcelorMittal’s BEE deal which netted potential fortunes for Sehunelo and Zuma, among others.

City Press reported last week that some of Sehunelo’s companies were involved in other controversial mining transactions.

A former staff member said things were tough at Chambua. Workers were sent home in ­August and were still waiting for their September salaries.

It seemed that Chambua was mining “illegally” after the section of the prospecting licence that allowed the removal of ore was withdrawn by Chris Victor, founder of Mistyfalls?45. Mistyfalls?45 contracted Chambua Minerals to do the work.

Accusations flew between Victor and rival shareholders, Sehunelo and Gamsa Gool, of forging share certificates to take over control of Mistyfalls?45 and its prospecting licence that could be worth billions.

Chambua chief executive Bev Baker apparently ruled the mine with an iron fist from her headquarters in Durban.

Ferdi van Rensburg, former mine manager and director of Mistyfalls?45, said Chambua had no lawful agreement to mine on Lohatla because Victor withdrew that section of the permit.

Victor had not been informed of tonnage removed and sold, and was not paid his royalties.

Van Rensburg was fired after Baker accused him of theft. No charge was laid. His directorship was terminated.

Van Rensburg alleged that “Chambua is mining full-scale on a prospecting licence”.

Mining-law expert Jonathan Veeran from Webber Wentzel Bowens said prospecting meant that the existence, extent and economic value of mineral ­deposits must be determined – not that ore should be removed regularly on a large scale.

Sehunelo’s defence was that Chambua could remove and sell 30?000 tons of ore per month to prove its viability.

Manganese deposits on ­Lohatla were estimated at 52.5?million tons, which could bring in more than R10?billion, yet Chambua seemed to have ­financial problems.

Employees received a letter from Baker saying the company could not afford to transport them to work any more, and they were sent home.

In response, Baker said when commodity prices collapsed, most mines in the area simply retrenched their workers, while Chambua kept on all staff.

According to Baker “we did so at great expense notwithstanding that it was uneconomic to carry on operations on the site.

“The staff had little to do. However, in consultation with the staff and the community we agreed on a way forward and we adhered to these undertakings.

“Chambua Minerals endeavours at all times to adhere to all relevant legislation and licence obligations...
“Numerous site inspections have taken place and no significant issues have ever been raised. Where we have been requested to remedy certain issues these have been attended to,” Baker wrote.

Michael Stofberg, until recently a mine safety officer, said Chambua functioned illegally. The law demanded that certain key personnel with valid appointments by the department of mineral resources (DMR) should always be on site.

This didn’t happen at Chambua. Stofberg and two other managers withdrew their legal appointments at DMR.

“None of us is prepared to go to jail and risk our reputations for Bev Baker,” said Stofberg.

Stofberg claimed that the environmental management plan was not applied, red cards were not kept up to date, injuries were not reported, machines and vehicles were not maintained properly, refuse was dumped improperly, eating and ablution facilities were inadequate, dirty oil and diesel was stored and disposed of inappropriately and there was often no personal protection equipment for workers.

Dust masks, helmets, earplugs, goggles and gloves to protect against sharp manganese rock, dust and noise often ran out as did the drinking ­water.

Baker replied: “ I can confirm that necessary arrangements have been made to ensure that we comply with the Mine Health and Safety Act.”

Chambua approached a sub-contractor Johann Niemoller to take over mining. Workers said Niemoller was introduced to them a few months ago with the promise that things would improve. But in August they were sent home.

Only a handful of workers and one of Niemoller’s men remained at the mine.

Niemoller says he has not signed anything.

Victor knew nothing about Niemoller’s proposed appointment and said his contract with Chambua prohibited a third party being contracted to mine.

A senior investigations team from DMR Pretoria descended on Postmasburg after last week’s exposé.
Spokesperson Jeremy Michaels said it was too soon to comment.

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