Gupta coal mine turns into war zone over unpaid salaries

Optimum and Koornfontein mines can no longer guarantee employment security.

Optimum and Koornfontein mines can no longer guarantee employment security.

Other Gupta-owned companies are also under strain, with fears that the business rescue plan is failing.

The Gupta family-owned Optimum mine in Mpumalanga flared into chaos yesterday as employees, fed up with not being paid, turned the area into a war zone.

The mine is currently under business rescue. According to a source known to The Citizen but being kept confidential due fear of a backlash from the employer, employees set two cars alight on Monday and burnt two offices yesterday.

“Cars travelling on the road are being bombarded with stones and burning tyres are being placed in the road,” the source said.

Peter Mbhele was an employee spokesperson at the mine until frustrated co-workers, having been promised their salaries, deposed him and others from leadership positions.

“They elected us as leaders so we can represent them,” he said.

“We tried to explain everything to them, that we have spoken to Mr Klopper of the business rescue practitioners, who said salaries are on their way. But they complained it’s almost the 15th and nothing has been paid to them yet.”

Louis Klopper of Coronado Consulting was appointed by creditors to try to salvage eight Gupta-linked companies that are facing financial difficulties after banks denied further assistance to the Guptas due to “reputational risk”.

By the time of going to press, he hadn’t responded to requests for more information.

Mbhele said: “I spoke to Klopper [on Monday] and warned him we could no longer contain the situation. Workers are actually suspecting we [their leaders] might have been paid and they are not. This isn’t true.

“I told him something might happen, and it did. The police came, we tried to calm the situation in front of the police but unfortunately the police came with rubber bullets and tear gas. The situation is out of hand now.”

The strike is set to continue until contractors and employees are paid, he said.

At VR Laser – a Gupta-linked company in Boksburg, east of Joburg, staff and contractors face a similar situation of unpaid salaries.

Numsa shop steward Lucky Nuleya has raised fears that the rescue plan may fail before even starting. –


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