Economy / 23 September 2015, 1:30pm / Zohra Mohamed Teke
Durban - Former mine boss Thulani Ngubane has claimed that thousands of idle mineworkers stripped his defunct gold mines, causing international investors to withdraw and a collapse of the mines.
The Durban businessman made the claim this week in the wake of a failed court appeal against an earlier finding that he, along with four other directors at Aurora Empowerment Systems (AES), acted recklessly when they took over the two mines in Gauteng and North West.
After their latest defeat in challenging the ruling against them, the directors now face a personal liability claim for R1.7 billion over debts incurred from their doomed mining deal.
But, for the first time since the case began five years ago, Ngubane said rogue elements among the mineworkers were to blame for “killing off the mines”.
He also denied that Aurora had left thousands of miners unpaid and destitute.
“When we took over from Pamodzi, we made it clear that we would not take over their unpaid salary debts,” he said.
“We agreed to take on all workers in stages and began with around 2 000 of the 5 500 workers. All 2 000 workers were paid by us.
“But we continued to feed all the workers daily, including those we did not employ, and allowed them to stay on at the mines.”
However, the jobless miners started stealing everything in the mine and encouraging others to strike, which eventually destroyed the mine, Ngubane said.
“We were blamed for something which we were not even liable for and were not given a chance to explain our side in court,” charged a visibly upset Ngubane.
But miners’ unions have slammed his claims, insisting workers were left without pay only after they began working for Aurora.
“It is true that there was an agreement with Aurora that they take on the workers in stages, but there was no outstanding salaries due to the workers when they took over,” said National Union of Mineworkers deputy president, Joe Montisetsi.
“As for the workers being responsible for stripping the mines, that is absolute rubbish. We have evidence of how trucks belonging to the company directors were brought in to strip the mine of assets, some of which needed specialist machinery to be removed.
“There is no way workers can be accused of doing this when they could not even afford food on the table, let alone machinery. We even tried to stop their trucks from looting the mines,” he said.
His rejection was supported by Solidarity’s general secretary, Gideon du Plessis.
“When Pamodzi left, they paid out whatever was due to the workers. Aurora stopped paying workers within three months of taking over and that’s why workers went on strike.
“I also witnessed their trucks stripping the mines of assets, so it’s ridiculous to suggest that workers did this. Ngubane had five years to come forward and prove any of these claims but they failed to do so because there is no substance to his allegations,” Du Plessis said.
“In fact, all the other directors except Ngubane and Zondwa Mandela, grandson of the late Nelson Mandela, have approached me to try and come to an agreement to pay workers some compensation,” he said.
Ngubane said the group was preparing to approach the Supreme Court of Appeal and, failing there, the Constitutional Court.
“I want an opportunity to give oral evidence in court which we have been denied. I have proof that our mine managers deliberately sabotaged our operations because they did not want to see a BEE company succeed at the mines.
“We lost R25 million every month as a result of their actions, where they instructed mine workers not to produce to the capacity expected of them,” Ngubane said.
“We were forced to turn to loan sharks to borrow money to keep operations afloat. We ran at a total loss because all we were doing was servicing the loans and paying workers’ salaries.
“When those rogue elements within the workforce started stealing and going on strikes and so on, investors were scared off and the funding failed to materialise, which then killed the mines completely,” Ngubane added.
In a further surprising disclosure, Ngubane also denied seeing proof of payment of R35m, which fellow former director, Khulubuse Zuma (nephew of President Zuma), claims to have given as a personal bail-out to pay workers’ salaries at the mines.
Zuma’s spokesman, Vuyo Mkhize, questioned why Ngubane failed to raise his concerns while applying to court for leave to appeal against the ruling against him.
“Khulubuse gave a full account of his involvement, including proof of payment for R35m which he gave to the company, in his sworn testimony as part of the inquiry into the matter as well as three further separate affidavits which he provided,” Mkhize said.
Zuma is the only former Aurora director who was found not to have acted fraudulently. He was, however, found to have acted recklessly and also faces the joint personal liability claim of R1.7bn.