“We will not stand for it anymore, we will take a very hard line.”
These were the tough words from mining boss, Cobus Loots, who told Lowelder he promised that Barberton Mines would not accede to protesters’ demands in the wake of violent demonstrations at the group’s Sheba Mine on Wednesday and Thursday.
Protesters, led by what Loots described as a “splinter group intent on leveraging jobs at the mine”, torched a security company vehicle and set a truck alight while barricading the road leading to the mine. This comes in the aftermath of a memorandum of demands delivered by community members, which ended in a stalemate.
Afterwards, the department of mineral resources (DMR) stepped in to conduct a two-week audit of the mine, which it checked against the community’s demands. According to Loots, DMR released its findings in a meeting on July 9 which was attended by representatives from the City of Mbombela Local Municipality.
The report indicated that Barberton Mines employed 79% of its workforce from Barberton and was compliant with the Mining Charter on key issues such as the number of contractors sourced locally, employing more women in mining, enterprise development, providing bursaries and internships to locals and contributing to community projects, among other things.
The report was not well-received by community members, who embarked on protest action to voice their disagreement.
Based on footage of the protest, Loots identified two individuals whom he said were inciting the violent protests at the mine gate. He added that they were driving ANC-branded vehicles and wearing the party’s regalia during the protest. Attempts to contact the pair were unsuccessful at the time of going to press, and their names are therefore being withheld.
“It’s quite clear to us that these guys have been agitating for some time, and I’m not sure what the agenda is. If it is to try and achieve political gain, or for them to say that they have managed to obtain 100 or 200 jobs, we don’t know, but Barberton Mines and Pan African Resources cannot be held to ransom by criminals,” he said.
Loots decried the situation, adding that the mining house has, over the years, created jobs for 1,800 workers and employed between 300 to 400 contractors. He remained adamant that the people identified in the video footage were impacting negatively on foreign investment of the area.
“We want our operations to continue, but at some point, one has to take a stand and say, ‘enough is enough’. We will not give in to criminals and criminal demands. The sad thing is that, if this continues, people in Barberton will lose their jobs. I’m not meeting with criminals who threaten our people and burn our trucks.
“I have to go abroad to the UK and elsewhere and tell people to invest in SA because we have stable policies and environments and we want to create jobs. We are busy with new projects in Barberton and we will not be held to ransom by thugs.”
According to Barberton Mines’ finance and administration manager, Martin Pieters, the damage assessed in the aftermath of the protest is likely to run into millions of rand.
“In terms of the vehicles which were damaged and the loss of production, we estimate that up to R6 million was lost. An exact figure will be made available as soon as we have assessed the damage.”
Loots indicated that Barberton Mines has gone the extra mile in accommodating the two individuals implicated in the protest, but dismissed any chances of further meetings to resolve the crisis.
“We have video footage at the gate of these individuals inciting the community to this violent protest… burning vehicles, showing up at our gate committing illegal acts. Where does this leave us?” he asked.
Lowvelder understands that a total shutdown of Barberton was planned by the community for Friday.