Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES
Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: ALON SKUY/THE TIMES

Department of Mineral Resources director-general Thabo Mokoena fired the man at the centre of noncompliance notices that were to be served on Tegeta Resources’ collieries, allegedly at the behest of the Gupta-owned company.

The department said the dismissal of Aubrey Tshivhandekano as its regional manager in Mpumalanga was related to misconduct. However, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and sources in the department said his firing was related to work he was doing at the collieries.

Ministry sources said there was unhappiness in the department about Tshivhandekano’s firing and that there was talk among staff of writing to President Cyril Ramaphosa to expose workings in the department under minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who is allegedly close to the Guptas and their dealings.

In the State of Capture report by former public protector Thuli Madonsela, the Guptas feature prominently and Zwane’s conduct and interactions with them during his tenure as Free State MEC of agriculture and later as national mines minister have been a point of discussion.

Tegeta, which is owned by Oakbay Investments, a Gupta company, bought the Optimum Colliery from Glencore under dubious circumstances involving both the state-run power utility, Eskom, and Zwane, who flew to Switzerland to meet Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg to discuss the mine’s sale to Tegeta Resources.

The NUM said on Friday that the firing of the regional manager was an intervention by the Department of Mineral Resources on behalf of Tegeta, which faced a noncompliance notice from Tshivhandekano.

NUM spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu said the union was furious at Tshivhandekano’s dismissal for standing up for workers’ rights at the mine where salaries were either late or partially paid.

The letter of dismissal handed to Tshivhandekano by Department of Mineral Resources officials was signed by Mokoena, on the instruction of Zwane, and was designed to stop the issuance of the notice that could close the colliery, Mammburu said.

It is understood that Tshivhandekano had also recently visited the Optimum Colliery, where a similar notice was prepared for noncompliance with its mining licence.

On Friday, the Department of Mineral Resources denied any suggestions of impropriety in Tshivhandekano’s dismissal, but it conceded there were problems at the Koornfontein Colliery. “The mine in question has been notified of its compliance obligations by the regional office, and is expected to respond to the department’s letter, with details of how it will rectify the findings,” it said.

The NUM said money held in an employee share ownership scheme at Optimum was missing, that safety equipment was not provided to employees, suppliers were not paid on time and workers were being retrenched at Koornfontein.

“Noncompliance in terms of transformation and all procurement targets have not been met by the Gupta-owed mining operations,” said Mammburu.

Tegeta CEO George van der Merwe did not respond to messages or calls for comment.

Van der Merwe is alleged to have threatened Tshivhandekano with repercussions and that Tegeta management would talk to Zwane about his actions on their mines.