By Alameen Templeton, Poloko Tau and Jonathan Ancer

The North West mining town of Stilfontein is on its knees following DRDGold's announcement that it is shutting down its two mines in the province - and leaving at least 6 000 miners unemployed.

DRDGold applied for the provisional liquidation of its Hartebeestfontein and Buffelsfontein mines on Tuesday, and shut the mines' gates.

"It's a case of risk and return, and we can see high risk for little or no return," DRDGold CEO Mark Wellesley-Wood said on Tuesday.

"The earthquake (at the Hartebeestfontein mine two weeks ago) was just the last straw."

Angry senior managers, miners and unionists were united in their call for DRDGold's foreign-owned mining licence to be handed over to a South African company on Tuesday.

A senior manager at Hartebeestfontein mine accused DRDGold of "doing the dirty" on the town of Stilfontein.

"They have sold the South Africans out. They have used us to acquire assets overseas and now they are leaving us with nothing but a few holes in the ground," he said.

Two years ago, when DRDGold bought its Tolukuma gold mine in Papua-New Guinea, it shipped out container-loads of expensive heavy-duty mining equipment "for months", the manager said.

The senior manager, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, was visibly angered at the liquidation decision.

In a shaking voice, he accused Wellesley-Wood of being unable to attract the calibre of manager needed to keep a deep-level South African mine afloat.

"They have had no fewer than eight general managers in the last three years. This company has effectively been leaderless for a long time. We were all expecting this to come along. The writing has been on the wall, but it is a shock for everyone," he said.

Trade union organisations Cosatu and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said they had repeatedly accused DRDGold of incompetence, and said Tuesday's announcement had proved their point.

"We call on the department of mineral and energy affairs to rescind DRDGold's mining licence and transfer it to a Proudly South African company which will save and create jobs, and maintain and expand this important sector of our economy," Cosatu said.

"This announcement only consolidates our viewpoint that the management of DRDGold is not fit to run these operations," said NUM general secretary Gwede Mantashe, who also called for a change of ownership.

"This company is a disgrace to the mining industry and gives it a very bad image, especially against the shared notion of developing mining into a sunrise industry."

Solidarity union spokesperson Reint Dykema said he felt for the people of Stilfontein: "It will be a ghost town with these mines out of operation."

He said the liquidation of the mine came as no surprise to his union. "We have been aware over time that DRD was having problems in that they were running at a loss.

"We will see to it that workers fairly get all that is due to them, including their severance packages, and we will still hope for something to be done afterwards to try and get them back into their jobs," Dykema added.

"We are hoping for a white knight to come our way and rescue the whole situation there."

The news of the mines' liquidation came as a shock to the closely knit community in Stilfontein.

Zanimnvula Mbonela said he had been working for three years at the mine, and was at a loss about what to do. He had three children in Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape, and he would have to "sit down and think tonight about a plan".

Vuyani Mbosiso has three children in Lesotho but isn't wasting time. He said he would be packing his bags on Tuesday night to catch a taxi home.

Some miners, like Jacob Rampai and Mbulelo Nano, now face their second retrenchment from the same mine.

The two were just resettling and beginning to enjoy their old jobs at Hartebeestfontein after they were retrenched in mid-2003, and were reinstated only in December.

"And I thought it was the end of a chapter for my problems, and now another one opens up and I find myself unemployed again," Nano said.

"I know exactly how hard life can be when one is out of a job.

I never thought I would get back to that situation again, but it looks like I'm already there."

Rampai was feeling not only for himself but also for his hometown, Stilfontein, and neighbouring Klerksdorp.

"These two towns are standing here today because of this mine, and I believe the closure of the mines will have a very negative impact on the communities around here. A high rate of unemployment will obviously mean an increase in crime and death rates," Rampai said.

Rampai, a breadwinner at home, said he was just about to sign a hire purchase agreement buying some furniture for his mother.

"I thank God that I did not sign, otherwise I would be sitting on a pile of debts now. I now have to think of something else to make ends meet at home.

"But right now I'm hoping for a miracle to happen and we get our jobs back," he said.