Arson attacks force Zululand coal mine to suspend operations

Picture: Thinkstock

It is unclear at this stage exactly how long we will be closed.

Arson attacks have forced the closure of the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) near Ulundi in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The company announced on Monday that operations had been suspended at the mine “until these perpetrators are arrested and the security situation can be brought under control”.

A statement released by ZAC read: “During the past few weeks ZAC has been plagued by criminal activities around the mining shafts.”

The latest attack, according to the statement took place last Wednesday night at the mine’s Ngwabe shaft, resulting in one employee sustaining serious burn wounds to his left hand and an office block being burnt to the ground.

The attack at the Ngwabe shaft is the second this month. In the early hours of March 17 a group of people cut through the perimeter fence and set offices alight at the Ngwabe shaft.

Further attacks earlier in the year have also been reported, including the torching of a truck.

ZAC managing director, Niels Kristensen, speaking by phone, could Monday not confirm for how long operations at the mine would be suspended.

“It is unclear at this stage exactly how long we will be closed. Our aim is that this won’t have an impact on our supply, if at all possible. At this point in time we don’t think this will have an impact on our customers,” he said.

Kristensen said that the aim was to be able to operate the mine, ensuring that its 1,350 employees and contractors could carry out their work safely.

“ZAC management is engaging with all stakeholders at the highest levels on order to ensure that there is alignment and full commitment to work together to ensure the business can resume operations as soon as possible and that jobs are reserved,” said Kristensen.

Last week Ulundi police spokeswoman Captain Nkosie Gwala said that one man had been arrested, as he was reportedly inciting violence.

“He was arrested after a meeting with all stakeholders where he was shouting and inciting other members of the public,” she said at the time.

She could not immediately be reached on Monday to confirm the nature of the charge and if the man had since appeared in court or if he was even still in custody.

She said last week that police were working with ZAC in a bid to stem the criminality.

According to a source in the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, parts of the community living in areas around the mine are unhappy they are not being employed at the mine.

Miningmx, an online publication focusing on mining, also reported last week that the violence at the mine was being orchestrated by a group of 15 to 20 youths who had been trying to disrupt mine operations while demanding to be employed.

ZAC, who’s majority shareholder is the mining giant Rio Tinto, operates its colliery in a remote area about 50 kilometres east of Ulundi.

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