Limpopo’s mine of shame

2011-11-19 15:18

Hope – this was what joining Batlhabine Brickyard, a clay mine partly-owned by Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale’s wife, meant to Jonas Maake (25).

Maake (25) – who signed up with the Tzaneen-based company when a consortium led by Mokgadi Dolly Kgohloane’s associates took over the mine in 2007 – hoped Batlha-bine would be a place where he and other less privileged locals could work, improve their skills and earn money to support their families.

“I wanted to use my salary to help my mother buy groceries and pay for the family’s burial society,” said Maake, who has no wife or kids.

Blue Platinum Venture, which trades as Batlhabine Brickyard, promised to help create jobs and provide economic opportunities for the Batlhabine community, near Lenyenye township.

Mathale’s wife, Kgohloane, is one of the company’s directors. Other directors include Helen Moreroa, the wife of businessman Selbie Manthata, who is also the business partner of Premier Mathale in another company.

Maake, who operated a stone-crushing machine, said promises made by the mine’s owners have yet to materialise for him and 100 other labourers. Instead they found themselves being exploited, subjected to poor working conditions and working without safety equipment or basic salaries.

They worked for up to 10 days a month, earning R110 before deductions. According to Maake’s payslip, dated October 2011, he took home R60,88 after deductions.

“I am struggling. I can’t even ­afford to pay my instalments. I have even fought with my parents because they think I earn a lot of ­money but do not want to help with groceries,” Maake complained.

Willian Sakwane, a fork-lift driver, echoed Maake’s sentiments. He said Matome Maponya, the mine’s CEO, chopped and changed their working conditions without prior warning, often sending labourers back home without pay for reasons that had nothing to do with them.

“We were never satisfied with the manner in which the company treated us. Sometimes you would arrive in the morning only to be told to go back home. They will just say the tractor is broken or the diesel is finished. Just imagine!” said Sakwane (31).

He added that they had “to use the bush as our toilets and there are snakes there. Even for this uniform (overalls), they deducted R100 from our salaries to pay for it”.

Thomas Modika (31) said Maponya once ordered him to accept a salary cut and go home in the ­middle of a night shift because of a machine breakdown.

“He (Maponya) never even ­provided transport. We went home on foot. If you go to the toilet for about 20 minutes, because you are pressed, you would be served with a written warning that you disappeared without reporting. It happened to me.”

Mathews Sekgobela said the company duped him into taking a funeral policy, saying the forms were part of his employment ­contract.

“They told us those were registration forms and we could lose our jobs if we didn’t sign them. We later learnt that the forms were for ­funeral policies when R28 was ­deducted from our salaries,” said Sekgobela.

Mining inspectors shut down Batlhabine in September after the company broke the law by failing to report the death of one of its ­labourers, Peter Malatjie, who was run over by a tractor on ­September 27.

The mine is now the subject of a probe by the labour department. Batlhabine also unilaterally ­extended its operations to an ­environmentally sensitive area without government approval or the required environmental management plan.

When City Press visited the mine, operations had been temporarily halted and gates were locked. Trucks and tractors were lying idle, while a group of men were building toilets.

The mine has an unrehabilitated pit separated from the nearby ­village by a small fence. A security guard refused to allow City Press in, saying he was acting under Moreroa’s instructions.

Moreroa and Kgohloane said, “all matters regarding the operations of the Batlhabine Brickyard must be referred to Matome”. Maponya did not respond to calls and a text message.

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