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File picture.

Grootvlei mine now stands in ruins

By Time of article published May 30, 2011

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In the beginning there was a gold mine and wonderful plans for riches. Today there are just ruins.

All that remains of the seven mine shafts of Aurora Empowerment Systems – which once employed more than 5 000 mine workers – are dilapidated structures, some stripped of all their equipment and others that have sustained damage worth hundreds of millions of rands.

The rubble and gaping useless shafts of the Grootvlei mine in Springs bear witness to a shameful tale of mismanagement, exploitation and negligence.

This week the end of the painful saga edged closer as officials from Chinese state-owned mining company Shandong Gold arrived in South Africa to conduct a due diligence inspection before committing an estimated $100 million (R699m) for a 60 percent stake in Aurora.

But damage resulting from the looting of scrap metal and machinery, mean it is unlikely that the shafts will ever work again.

Key figures in Aurora, Khulubuse Zuma, a nephew of President Jacob Zuma; Michael Hulley, the attorney who defended Zuma when he faced corruption charges, and Zondwa Mandela, a grandson of former president Nelson Mandela, have kept out of the limelight as the crisis at the mine worsened.

In 2009, Aurora took control with promises of a R600m investment in the tired mine shafts sold on by Pamodzi Gold, as well as job security for the mine workers and educational bursaries for their children.

But by March last year Aurora was sinking fast.

This week Business Report found that one of the shafts, Ndlovu number six, had been destroyed – its towering headgear cut away leaving nothing but a heap of bricks with a gaping hole that reportedly runs 400 metres deep.

Mine shaft number four had also been stripped and was barely functional. It poses an environmental hazard because its valuable, heavy duty pumps have been taken out and acid mine water flooding its depths is decanting on the surface.

Shafts number seven, nine and 14 have their head gear in place but are heavily damaged.

According to Gideon du Plessis, the deputy secretary-general of Solidarity, it would cost up to R100m to rebuild each of the ruined shafts. This means that Shandong Gold will have to fork out approximately R300m to get the mine back into production.

Some of the scrap metal stripped from the mines was sold to the New Reclamation Group, which provides recycling and waste management services. Attempts to contact the company were unsuccessful.

However, Harry Kassel, a director at New Reclamation Group, confirmed in a Mail & Guardian report last year that the company had reclaimed scrap from the surface and bought it from Aurora. The company paid per ton for the scrap metal.

He also said in the report that the company had done scrapping on a “number of shafts” and that it was “all above board”.

Du Plessis said that it was believed that the bodies of scrap scavengers lay at the bottom of one of the shafts.

Mining regulations specify that disused shafts must be covered with metal rods, a concrete slab and fenced.

The Aurora situation had turned innocent men into thieves, who scavenge on the scraps of what was left of the mine shafts, said Mgcino Sidelo, 60, a former Aurora employee. He has not been paid since March last year.

“The fruits of democracy have brought wealth for the politically connected and misery for people like me,” he said.

He explained that the situation in the mine had become a nightmare, where people who lived in the hostels had become a law unto themselves.

“During apartheid, the white employers would kick us around but at least you would get paid for your work. I find it strange that a company run by the nephew of the president of South Africa can treats its workers like this.

“These directors will not be held accountable because they are related to Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma.”

His colleague, Phumzile Vinjwayo from Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape, agreed and explained how they had nothing and had lost faith in the company’s directors and the unions.

“It has taken too long; we have nothing,” he said. “We don’t eat, our homes are destroyed and our kids don’t go to school. We hardly hear anything from the unions, we doubt that we will be able to work again.” - Ayanda Mdluli

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