In what the department of mineral resources has called an "industry milestone", Minister Gwede Mantashe has officially handed over a 50% shareholding in Arnot coal mine, Mpumalanga, to former employees of the mine on Workers' Day.
The shareholding in question was formerly held by Exxaro, with the balance of the shares now held by Wescoal. Wescoal announced that it was buying a 50% stake in Arnot in February this year.
Arnot was closed by Exxaro in 2015, when Eskom did not renew a 40-year coal supply agreement.
The power utility was alleged to have favoured contracts with Gupta-linked Tegeta when Exxaro's deals would have been more cost effective.
Wescoal has told media outlets it intends to breathe new life into Arnot. Eskom, for its part, has been negotiating new coal supply contracts with various suppliers in a bid to address coal shortages that contributed to load shedding in 2018.
On Wednesday, a Wescoal spokesperson confirmed Arnot had responded on April 2 to the Eskom Request for Proposal to supply coal to the Arnot Power Station.
The department of mineral resources this week hailed the move to transfer shareholding to retrenched employees as a key moment for the mining industry, both inclusive and in line with the Mining Charter.
"The handover is an industry milestone towards the inclusion of workers as meaningful stakeholders, as enshrined in the Mining Charter which came into effect in 2018," it said in a statement.
One of the new shareholders, Mxolisi Hoboyi, voiced his appreciation for the move on Wednesday. "We really, really, really appreciate [it]…
"You can't praise a fish for swimming, but now we think [what] you have done, it never happens in this country, that the workers own 50%.
"We are managers, we are empowered."
Mantashe called for "support and solidarity" for the move.
"It is ideas that make a difference in life. We must all sing praises to the workers who chose to […] have faith in the idea of ever running a successful mine," he said.
Speaking to the Eskom inquiry in 2018, Exxaro CEO Mxolisi Mgojo said it had been the "biggest pain" to tell 1 500 workers that the mine would have to close, despite there being coal in the ground that could still be mined.