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JOHANNESBURG - A senior mine employee has been shot and killed as violent clashes in South Africa’s mining industry escalate.

Bodies have been piling up, leaving families without a source of income. This week union and company bosses called for the government to get to the bottom of the killings.

Simphiwe Kubheka, regional general manager at Harmony Gold Company’s Tshepong operation near Odendaalsrus in the Free State, is the latest victim. He was shot and killed on his way home on Thursday. 

Illegal mineworkers, also known as zama-zamas, are rumoured to be behind Khubeka’s death.  His murder comes hot on the heels of the increasingly brutal murders of mineworkers in the platinum belt in the North West.

 United Association of SA (Uasa) spokesperson Andre Venter blamed a combination of poor leadership and anarchy. “Speculation that Kubheka was murdered by illegal gold-miners speaks to how unemployment, poverty, greed and weak leadership push South Africa ever deeper into anarchy,”  Venter said on Friday.

Uasa said it was enraged about this murder of a senior mining employee, who was working fearlessly to eradicate corruption in the industry. “We can no longer afford to have illegal miners threatening the industry and bringing harm to hard-working and responsible employees,” said Venter.

Harmony Gold said it was investigating Khubeka’s murder and had tightened up security at its operations. “Our security team – with the SAPS – will assist in the search for the perpetrators of this act of violence and lawlessness,” Lauren Fourie,  Harmony’s investor relations manager, said.

Illegal mining is a hot potato, with Sibanye Gold, South Africa’s biggest gold producer, in June reportedly dismissing 99 employees and placing 407 others on final warnings after an illegal strike at Cooke mine triggered by zama-zamas. 

Sibanye said the employees had been fired after ignoring the company’s ban on food supply to underground workers, aimed at stemming illegal mining. The company said 77 employees had been arrested this year for assisting illegal miners.

Khubeka was the Free State representative at the Association of Mine Managers of South Africa and served on the association’s council. Mvelisi Biyela, health and safety office-bearer of the Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), was killed last month. The Lonmin employee was gunned down in front of his wife and child at his home in Wonderkop.

Amcu said last week that five of its members had been killed in recent months without arrests. “Amcu conducted a private investigation and evidence was handed to the police, who were restrained at the point of making an arrest by higher authority,” said Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa. 

Amcu’s rival, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num), has  called for an end to the killing.