Anglogold Ashanti has decided not to retrench the 4000 workers at its Kopanang mine but instead opted to sell the mine as a going concern.
This has sparked fears that it wanted to pass on the liability to pay out workers on to any owner of the mine.
The company recently held a meeting at Kopanang mine in Klerksdorp to pitch its new position and found favour from some of the minority stakeholders.
Representatives of the company, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), several workers representatives and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) attended the meeting.
Some stakeholders – except NUM – signed on the dotted line in an agreement that the mine should be sold as it is without the retrenchments.
The agreement, which City Press has seen, states in part that: “If and when the sale takes effect, they [workers] will be transferred to the employment of the purchaser in terms of section 197 of the Labour Relations Act or on such terms as may be agreed between the company, the purchaser and the employees concerned.”
However, after signing the agreement Amcu representatives found themselves on the receiving end of heavy criticism when they reported the development to the miners during a mass meeting this week, and were given an ultimatum to withdraw their signatures or step down.
NUM vice-president Joseph Montisetsi said the union declined to sign the agreement because it was against the deviation from the initial plan and there was no mandate from the workers to agree to it.
Montisetsi also said the union feared that workers would end up in a disaster similar to the Aurora disaster – where a mine was sold only for workers to not get their dues under new owners.
“We want the workers to be given their money and be re-employed by the new owners. They came up with an agreement with a lot of English but they know what we want,” he said.
Num also subsequently met in Potchefstroom to get a mandate from its members and a decision was taken not to sign on the dotted line.
Montisetsi said the decision had already been escalated to Parliament’s portfolio committee to stop Anglogold Ashanti from opting out of the retrenchment.
Sahlulele Luzipho, chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee, confirmed that he received the urgent letter from NUM and the committee would consider it when the department appeared on Wednesday.
Luzipho said the committee was never briefed by the department on Anglogold Ashanti’s decision not to retrench but would be receiving presentations from unions and the chamber of mines on job losses when it embarked on its health and safety oversight visits in Gauteng next week.
NUM represents 89% of the more than 4000 workers at that mine and Amcu is the minority union.
Jeff Masemola, secretary-general of Amcu, denied that the agreement existed.
However, according to a reliable source who attended the signing meeting, the company seemed to want to reduce some of the prospective buyers through disqualification if there was an agreement in place to sell the mine as an operating facility.
Anglogold Ashanti apparently received an offer of R1 for the actual mine and its underground infrastructure from at least one of the three bidders, this after the company itself claimed the mine’s economic life has been exhausted but assets around it valued at millions of rands.
According to a confidential document signed by Anglogold Ashanti’s Charles Carter, the asset package up for grabs is the underground mining operation and its associated facilities in the shaft area, the mineral rights related to the mine, the residence and primary health facilities.
The gold dump and ore rock dump are not included.
The three bidders in the running for the mine are Harmony Gold, Shaft 9, a newly registered company owned by a consortium of black business people led by Lebo Ramorule and Kopanang mine manager Stephen Manyathela, and the Chinese-owner of Tau Lekoa Gold Mine in Orkney, of which Owen O’Brien is the chief executive.
According to a source who is privy to the internal workings of the sale process, the preferred buyer is Harmony because its offer is to buy both Kopanang and Tautona and it definitely has deeper pockets.
The non-executive chair of Harmony is Patrice Motsepe while his counterpart at Anglogold Ashanti is Sipho Pityana.
All three parties declined to comment on the issue as they all signed non-disclosure agreements on the matter.
“We do not comment on speculation,” Lauren Fourie of Harmony said.
“No comment,” Ramorule said and O’Brien also said he could not comment at this stage.
Spokesperson of Anglogold Ashanti, Chris Nthite, also declined to shed light on the matter and said: “We don’t comment on any speculation or any potential corporate activity.”
“We issued our interim results last Monday in which we disclosed that Kopanang has been written down to zero,” he said.
Meanwhile the Num branch election in Kopanang’s neighbouring mine of Moab Khotsong turned chaotic and six people were injured – with two hospitalised – when the union’s factions clashed in the presence of police.
The department did not respond to questions or several reminders sent to it.