Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) wants mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe to conduct a forensic audit of Lanxess’s chrome mine near Rustenburg and possibly revoke its licence, following allegations of rampant corruption at the mine.

Numsa claims that the company unilaterally changed the rules of the employee share ownership scheme, which was valued at about R70m in 2017.

Lanxess has also been in the news lately with Numsa accusing the mine’s management of rampant racism and of defending a mine captain claimed to have sexually assaulted a female subordinate. This has prompted union members to stage an underground sit-in since last week.

The controversial ownership scheme was established in 2007 and it was envisaged that after it matured in 10 years, workers would receive their pro rata share in line with their years of services at the mine.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said workers were informed in 2017 that the mine’s board formed part of the 26% BEE partnership shareholding, which includes workers’ ownership.

“They … implemented these changes and as such, workers were only paid out R10,000 … [this] was hush money to silence our members so they do not revolt or ask questions,” Jim said.

Workers targeted

He accused the employer of openly removing what “would have benefited workers”, and questioned the mine’s ownership pattern, saying its empowerment deal amounted to window-dressing.

Those who opposed and spoke out against the alleged flagrant disregard of the scheme’s rules were targeted and accused of various charges, dragged through what he called a sham disciplinary process and fired, Jim said.

About 56 Numsa members were fired from May 2018 to May 2019, according to Jim, who described Lanxess as intent on destroying Numsa through the “consistent dismissal of its members”.

Jim said that one employee was summarily dismissed after distributing Numsa T-shirts during a protected strike, while another was fired after driving a company car to Johannesburg, despite having been granted permission by his supervisor.

Jim said another worker, Wiseman Tabane, was dismissed on allegations that on the day the company secured a strike interdict he had not timeously read the interdict to workers to abandon the strike action.

He said the open attack against Numsa members was due to their members’ “open dissatisfaction with the unilateral changes” to the scheme.

On Sunday, Numsa held discussions with acting CEO Boitumelo Mbatha, uponthe intervention of Monageng Mothiba, an inspector from the department of mineral resources & energy. According to a tentative in-principle agreement, the mine captain accused of rape will be placed on special leave with immediate effect, and the files of the 56 dismissed employees will be reviewed to ascertain whether the sanctions were appropriate.

Forensic audit

The mine will also verify the membership of recognised unions to confirm who has the majority, although Numsa claims to be the biggest union at the mine.

The agreement allows Numsa to subject the mine’s respective departments to a forensic audit to deal with the employees’ concerns.

Jim called on Mantashe to intervene decisively in solving the issues.

“Numsa demands that there is enough ground to call for the [department] to embark on a forensic audit to deal with what are prevalent allegations of corruption….”

Jim called on Mantashe’s department to act, “even if it means [revoking] the licence of this mine”.

The department said it is concerned about the safety of the mineworkers who are underground. 

“Anything that endangers the lives and health of mineworkers is unacceptable to the department, hence our immediate focus and priority on this matter is to ensure that all employees come up from underground safely,” it said.

Lanxess spokesperson Nomzamo Khanyile could not immediately be reached for comment.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za