Johannesburg - Litsitso Maqai, 20, from Lesotho, has no money to bury his father, Meea Maqai, a Blyvooruitzicht gold mine employee who was killed during a confrontation with security guards in January.
Maqai said Meea’s body had been in a mortuary in Carletonville since he died, and the family could not afford the burial. Maqai has received R20 donations from each of the few mineworkers who remain at the Blyvoor Shaft Five Hostel, but it is not enough.
“I arrived on Wednesday to take care of my father’s belongings and for money to bury him,” Maqai said. He has been staying in his father’s room at the hostel, which has no electricity or water.
When Business Report visited, Maqai was cooking a small pot of mealie meal on an open fire outside his father’s room, which he shares with other mineworkers.
They have to fetch bathing water from the nearby dam, and travel to the taxi rank in town to get drinking water from the public taps.
Maqai’s plight is a reflection of the “humanitarian crisis” faced by the 1 746 employees at Blyvooruitzicht, which was placed under provisional liquidation in August last year.
Many employees have meagre prospects after spending most of their provident fund payouts to service debt. They say they are waiting for liquidators to pay out money for dividends from the liquidation. They relied on Unemployment Insurance Fund payouts for the past six months but those stopped last week.
An employee at the mine, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he last went grocery shopping in January.
“I bought 12kg of mealie meal, 2kg of rice, four tins of pilchards, 2 litres of milk, tea bags and chicken portions for R500. I go to town to ask for food because I cannot afford to buy groceries. How can we vote when we are in a crisis?”
Employees are staying on at the mine, although it is being closed, as they cannot return to their homes, which are mainly in the Eastern Cape or Lesotho, where unemployment is rife.
Blyvoor’s new owner, Goldrich Holdings, bought the mine for R70 million last year. The company is in business rescue, and Blyvoor liquidators are embroiled in litigation with the business rescue practitioner. The liquidator wants the court to reverse the sale as conditions were not met and has interdicted Goldrich from disposing of Blyvoor assets, including the sale of scrap metal.
Goldrich is run by Thulani Ngubane and Fazel Bhana, who were involved in the damage to Pamodzi Gold’s Grootvlei and Orkney mines, which were run down under the control of Aurora Empowerment Systems, of which Ngubane was a director and Bhana an adviser.
Blyvoor liquidator Leigh Roering of Harvard Corporate Recovery Services says: “We are trying to find a solution to the problem. We landed in difficulties with our buyer.
“The liquidators will only be in a position to distribute dividends to creditors of Blyvoor, including employees, once the mine’s assets have been realised and a liquidation and distribution account has been confirmed by the master of the high court,” Roering said in a previous statement.
Blyvoor had not paid its service providers prior to going into business rescue. Power utility Eskom confirmed that the electricity supply to Shaft Five had been disconnected last week, signalling possible flooding after the mine failed to pay its R61m debt.
The mine security guards have not been paid. An employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said the security company where she works was contracted in January, and employees had received only half their pay. “We were promised R9 000 because it is dangerous here… zama-zamas can kill you, especially at night. We are getting only R2 000 a month. My kids are not going to school because I can’t afford it.”
The Department of Mineral Resources said it had completed the necessary inspections, issued compliance orders and engaged with the liquidators and unions. It continued to monitor compliance under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act. “The department is concerned about the potential job losses, and the negative impact on neighbouring mines if water pumping stops in a final liquidation,” spokesman Ayanda Shezi said.
National Union of Mineworkers shop steward George Kgoroyaboco confirmed that the workers were bankrupt. “They [employees] are waiting for money promised by the liquidator for their service. I am sure that people with 25 years’ service can at least get something.”
Mineworkers said Ngubane had promised 400 new jobs when he met employees in December last year, but they have not materialised.
Essential services including the pumping of underground water has also stopped due to non-payment of debts.
Neither Roering nor Ngubane were available for comment late last week.
About 6 000 people live in the Blyvoor village community, where 1 000 houses were recently sold to Double D and G Building Constructors, a developer, for about R17 000 each.
Residents were expected to pay R3 500 a month towards rent, water and electricity, but none could afford to do so, Kgoroyaboco said.