The Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources and Energy has concluded its three-day oversight visit to the Lily and Optimum mines in Mpumalanga, the Northam mine in Limpopo, and illegal mining hotspots in Gauteng.
At the Lily mine, on Friday, 10 October 2020, the committee observed that the business rescue practitioners continue to struggle about securing an attractive offer to sell the mine to new owners. It then felt that the current owners appear to put their financial interests far ahead of those three families whose members are still trapped underground.
The committee was briefed that the owners turned down, on several occasions, different offers to buy the Lily mine. For that reason, the committee announced to the families some recommendations that it will be making in its oversight report for consideration by the National Assembly. They include, among other things, closing the legislative gap between the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) and the Companies Act; that the state should declare the mine a disaster area in order to unlock resources that will assist to retrieve the bodies of the three workers; and that the state should consider expropriating the mine with a reasonable compensation, retrieve the bodies and resume operation in the public's interest.
Again on Friday, the committee visited the Optimum mine, where it learnt that over and above its failure to pay salaries of workers, the mine, which is also under business rescue practitioners, also faces operational challenges due to unmaintained equipment and inability to pay for electricity. The committee once again felt that mine owners also put their financial interest ahead of those workers who have not been paid salaries for years.
However, the committee visited a site where the mine continues to operate at a small scale. The Committee Chairperson, Mr Sahlulele Luzipo, said it boggles the mind that on the one hand, owners apply for the mining rights using the MPRDA, but on the other hand, they invoke the Companies Act in order to delay selling off the mine when faced with financial difficulties.
On Saturday, the committee met with local and small business owners in Thabazimbi, Northam mine management, and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), following a petition to the Speaker of the National Assembly by the community and local entrepreneurs. They complained that the mine shuts out economic and employment opportunities for small businesses and local residents. The committee then directed that the DMRE should, as soon as possible, facilitate a meeting between the company, business owners and the community in order to find a lasting solution, and that it should report back on what has been agreed upon.
The committee, however, did not make any recommendations with regard to illegal mining hotspots in Gauteng after a visit to few sites on Sunday. The committee was impressed by the manner in which the DMRE, together with its entities, continue to close off old shafts that are used for illegal mining activities, and the repurposing of the land for recreational facilities like the new race track in Ekurhuleni. Mr Luzipo said the purpose of the visit, in the main, was to empower committee members with first-hand knowledge on how illegal mining is carried out. "We will then meet as a committee to deliberate on the entire oversight visit, come with recommendations and adopt a report that will be tabled in the National Assembly," he said.