An Optimum Coal colliery. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
An Optimum Coal colliery. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Eskom said on Thursday that it had stopped paying Optimum Coal Mine at the beginning of February, as the mine had failed to supply the agreed amount of coal to Eskom’s Hendrina Power Station.

The power utility disclosed this as workers at Optimum Coal Mine in Middelburg continued their strike for the second day over uncertainty about the future of the Gupta-owned mine.

Commercial banks have cut ties with Gupta-owned companies, citing reputational risk, while the only bank that serves the companies — Bank of Baroda —will exit SA at the end of March.

The workers at Optimum wanted assurances from their employer that they would be paid on Friday, as the company was experiencing financial problems.

Optimum CEO George van der Merwe could not assure the employees that they would be paid on Friday and said that Eskom was sabotaging its operations by not paying Optimum.

However‚ Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said Optimum last supplied the power utility with coal on February 17, and the mine indicated to Eskom that it had difficulty in continuing the supply of coal.

"We have chosen not to pay Optimum in January as it had failed to supply the 370‚000 tonnes of coal per month as per service level agreements. Optimum has been failing consistently to supply us with the agreed quantity of coal. … What we then did was to impose a penalty in terms of the service level agreement."

Phasiwe said Optimum only supplied 118‚000 tonnes of coal for January.

"We imposed a fine of R105m for February‚ and their invoice for January was R52m. Because the penalty was higher than the invoice‚ it would have been reckless to extend money to a defaulting party‚" Phasiwe said.

Eskom said Optimum supplied 80% of the coal for the Hendrina power station‚ and the rest was supplied by smaller mining operators.

"We have asked the smaller companies to increase their output and we have also diverted coal from other power stations to Hendrina‚" Phasiwe said.

National Union of Mineworkers spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said because Optimum could not commit to paying the workers their monthly salaries‚ they could not go back to work.

Workers downed tools on Wednesday.

Mammburu said the workers presented Van der Merwe with a memorandum on Thursday, expressing their concerns about the ownership of the mine and asking whether workers would be paid their monthly salaries.

He said Van der Merwe could not commit to ensuring that workers would be paid on time.