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Panic in N Cape community as miners called to return to work

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This follows notifications by Kumba Iron Ore and Kolomela Mine to the workers to return to work from Monday after the mines were granted operating permits.

PANIC has gripped the Tsantsabane community, many of whom believe they are being put at risk of contracting the coronavirus after learning that mineworkers will be returning to work this week.

This follows notifications by Kumba Iron Ore and Kolomela Mine to the workers to return to work from Monday after the mines were granted operating permits by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DME).

Community members on Monday expressed concern for their safety, pointing out that many of the workers were from other provinces where the outbreak of the virus was more severe.

Planned mass action and road closures by community members, in an attempt to prevent the miners from returning to work, were put on hold due to the lockdown.

Permission was granted by the DME after the mines applied for an operating permit. The community questioned the reasons behind the department giving the mines the go-ahead to continue with operations.

Community members yesterday called for mines to reveal the contents of the application to the minister, stating that the mayor of Tsantsabane Municipality,  Mpho Mashilo, claimed to be unaware of the contents.

According to Save Tsantsabane Coalition (STC) councillor Michael Mabilo, the planned road closures by the community were suspended as they did not want to contravene the lockdown regulations.

“Now is not the time to take to the streets. Otherwise all our efforts to convince the community to obey the lockdown rules and stay off the streets would have been in vain,” he explained.

Mabilo pointed out that the call for the mineworkers to return to work was more like a threat as they stood to risk forfeiting certain benefits or not getting paid if they opted to stay at home this week.

He indicated that most of the workforce already started arriving in Kathu and Postmasburg on Monday and were living in the community without being tested first.

“That decision is putting the lives of our people at risk. It doesn’t help that the mine has put in place precautionary measures at the workplace for the workers to be screened. The fact remains that they arrived here and are living among community members now before they report for work,” he stated.

“The mine is also misleading the workers by claiming that only 50% of the workforce has to return.

“Yes, it is 50% of the permanent workforce, but what about the contractors who were called back? We are referring to different shifts that have to report to work on different days.”

Mabilo pointed out that all community leaders could do now was to push the relevant unions to fight for the rights of the workers as they would not obtain permission to participate in a march.

“We as community leaders have also engaged with a legal team to seek legal advice.

“We will also intensify our efforts in getting the contents of the application to the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy.”

EFF councillor Dirk Esau agreed that community member’s lives are being put at risk by people returning to work.

“This is a clear indication that the chickens are coming home to roost. We made a call to the mines back in 2017/18 that at least 70% of the workforce should be locals and the government did not take our call seriously. If that call was adhered to we would not be expecting so many people from outside to come here and put us at risk,” he pointed out.

“The community is unhappy and accuses us of misleading them as we called for everyone to stay indoors on the eve of the lockdown and now their lives are being put at risk by people going to work.”

According to Esau, they, as community leaders, were not consulted and learnt from the workers that they had received SMSes requesting them to return to work.

“It seems we were tricked, and that there were hidden plans all along as the decision was very sudden.

“We are also disappointed to learn that even the mayor did not bother to dispute the decision.”