North West mine shoots unpaid workers

Horizon Chrome Mine failed to pay salaries for November and when the mineworkers mobilised to protest, mine security guards shot them with rubber bullets and the police arrested them.

In the village of Tlhatlhaganyane, about 65km from Rustenburg in North West province, Horizon Chrome Mine hasn’t paid more than 200 members of its workforce their November salaries.

According to the workers, the mine bosses say the reason Horizon Chrome isn’t paying them is because they haven’t reached their monthly required target of mined chrome and because the mine has no money. 

Chief executive officer Maciek Pankowski reiterates this: “Horizon Chrome is currently in business rescue … We are also dealing with several complex legacy issues that have been inherited, and a depressed chrome market at present. All of these factors contribute to a complex reality.”

The workers say that salary delays have been a recurring issue. For the month of October, the mine paid them late, on 5 November, after they refused to work. To try to force the mine to pay them, the workers refused to work again by staying at home, “because we don’t have money for food, transport and skhaf’tini to eat at work,” they say. 

The National Union of Mineworkers represents the majority of the workers. On 2 December, a caucus was held outside the mine’s premises to find potential ways of engaging with the mine bosses. However, the mine had hired security guards, who shot the workers with rubber bullets at close range. This resulted in some of them suffering serious injuries while others were hospitalised. 

Pankowski says the workers, who he has now dismissed, will be paid their outstanding salaries “as soon as they complete their final medical exit examination, a legal obligation we are required to meet”.

Arrested workers

When the security guards shot at the workers, many women who couldn’t run were arrested for “public violence”. There was allegedly no damage to the mine’s property. The security guards allegedly went as far as shooting residents in their private homesteads in the nearby village of Mabeleng.

The police arrested nine workers on 2 December and held them at the Sun City Police Station near Rustenburg. Seven of the nine arrested workers were women, including one who isn’t an employee of the mine. They were released on 5 December from the Mogwase Police Station in Rustenburg without any charges being laid against them.

Related article:

“We can confirm that the suspects you referred to in the enquiry were arrested for public violence. However, prosecution decided not to enrol and gave further instructions as part of the investigation into the matter. Thus, the suspects were released,” said North West provincial spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone, adding that there is a case of assault on two counts being investigated that it is currently with the prosecution. 

When asked whose interests the police were serving when they arrested the workers, Mokgwabone said: “The police enforce the law rather than serving the interest of individuals or parties.”

‘Shoot this guy’

Thabang William Ndaba, 35, an electrician at the mine, was shot 18 times. One of the rubber bullets struck him near the right side of his jaw. He says he pulled the bullet out of the muscle under his chin. Large areas of his body are visibly bruised and wounded from the rubber bullets. 

4 December 2019: Horizon Chrome electrician William Ndaba was sitting under a tree when the security guards opened fire on him, leaving a rubber bullet embedded under his chin.
4 December 2019: Horizon Chrome electrician William Ndaba was sitting under a tree when the security guards opened fire on him, leaving a rubber bullet embedded under his chin.

He recalls how he ended up being shot. “I was sitting underneath the tree,” he says. “The security guards saw that I was not doing anything when they started shooting at the workers and they left me. However, the head of security at the mine said, ‘Shoot this guy,’ and all of them turned to me and started shooting at me.”

Ndaba says the security guards shot him and his colleagues in front of police officers, who allegedly did not intervene. “All they did was to organise for me a transport [after he had been shot]. There was a mobile ambulance, they asked that guy to take me to the hospital,” he says.

Related article:

Pankowski when asked why the mine resorted to using security guards, replied: “We firmly believe that the most important thing going forward is to de-escalate tensions between all stakeholders. We call on all our employees and social partners to come back to the negotiating table with us so we can resolve this situation in a way that works for us all. We believe that through dialogue and a reasonable stance from all stakeholders, we can balance the needs of a distressed business with the needs of workers and our community.”

Worker benefits

The workers employed by Horizon Chrome are also unhappy that the mine deducts provident fund and medical aid contributions from their gross salaries given that, for a couple of months, the mine has failed to send the deductions to the respective companies. 

Thabang Kingsley Tau, 32, is a father of three. He works as a mine assistant, blasting chrome. He was shot 10 times. “They shot me in between the legs and I fell down. I didn’t get any chance [to run], so I acted as if I fainted,” he recalls. 

4 December 2019: Mine assistant Thabang Kingsley is struggling to feed his three children at the moment because Horizon Chrome has not yet paid his salary for November.
4 December 2019: Mine assistant Thabang Kingsley is struggling to feed his three children at the moment because Horizon Chrome has not yet paid his salary for November.

One of the rubber bullets struck him on the right kneecap, compromising his ability to walk. “There’s a hole here,” he says, indicating his knee. “I can’t move well. I just hope that I’ll be able to move properly once I heal,” Tau says, adding that the security guards shot him at close range, from about a metre away.

Like others, Tau hasn’t been paid his salary. On 5 December, his wife gave him transport money to go and see a doctor in Rustenburg, only to discover that he couldn’t be assisted because his medical aid had no funds as the contributions deducted from his salary had not been paid over to his medical aid. He is now relying on the medication he received at the Moses Kotane government hospital in Rustenburg. 

Pankowski failed to answer questions relating to the unpaid medical aid and provident fund contributions of the workers.

Lie to protect

Matshediso Manyonda, 38, suffered among the worst injuries when the security guards shot her. Two rubber bullets have left her with open wounds on her back, which the doctors failed to close with stitches because they were too deep. 

She was admitted to Moses Kotane Hospital on 2 December and hospitalised for four days. Like Tau, she could not be admitted to a private clinic because her medical aid was frozen owing to the company not having received the contributions Horizon Chrome had deducted from her salary.

While in the state hospital, Manyonda’s 10-year-old son asked why she hadn’t returned home. She protected him from the truth by saying she had gone to visit her boyfriend in a neighbouring village, about 15km away. She organised for her two sons to stay with cousins while she was in hospital. 

Manyonda told her elder son not to worry as she was coming home soon. When she was discharged to recover at home, the first question her five-year-old son asked was: “Mommy, what happened and why are you limping?”

She gave him evasive answers.

‘Employer stealing the money’

William Ntuane, 66, a member of the tribal council who was born and bred in Tlhatlhaganyane, says: “Every time we talk about this mine, the mine bosses say they want to sell it because it’s not profitable. The only reason why we don’t close the mine is because our children work there. 

5 December 2019: Tlhatlhaganyane tribal councillor William Ntuane says he has fought since 2004 with the owners of Horizon Chrome to try and establish if they are trading with a legitimate tribal lease.
5 December 2019: Tlhatlhaganyane tribal councillor William Ntuane says he has fought since 2004 with the owners of Horizon Chrome to try and establish if they are trading with a legitimate tribal lease.

“This thing is touching my utmost depth. It’s really disappointing to see your children working so hard, yet at the end of the month, they do not receive anything … And no one is responsible for the arrears you’d have accrued after. The employer is stealing the money of these people by squandering it that way … You can’t run a mining business in the same way as you can run your spaza shop.”

Tau is a breadwinner. He says things are already tough at home. “We owe banks [and our debts are accumulating interest],” he says. “It’s not child’s play. Now your name is going to be bad, no company will trust you if you want to have credit. They will say you’re a bad payer. Ja neh,” he sighs, adding that he had bought clothes for his children on lay-by that he hasn’t been able to pay off. “We suffer, but we’re working.”

Tau says they were supposed to get their November salaries on 7 December, which did not happen. He says the mine’s bosses prohibited them from taking leave this year. 

Related article:

“Our body is tired now. Some people are getting injured,” he says. “They said we will close on 23 December and suddenly we not closing. They said they will give us only 20% of our salaries for December. If we don’t reach the target, they will pay us next January,” Tau says, adding that the required target for December is 42 000 tonnes of chrome.

According to a source at management level at the mine, who spoke on condition of anonymity, it’s a lie that the workers at the mine do not reach the required targets. The source said the mine’s bosses force each shift to produce at least 700 tonnes of chrome, which should be produced in two shifts a day. 

According to a document seen by New Frame, Horizon Chrome Mine produced 16 795 tonnes of chrome for the month of November. Monthly figures are difficult to come by, but these numbers make it seem unlikely that the workers will be able to achieve the December target.

5 December 2019: Horizon Chrome mineworkers gathered at the tribal council offices to discuss a way forward regarding their concerns about being compensated by the mine.
5 December 2019: Horizon Chrome mineworkers gathered at the tribal council offices to discuss a way forward regarding their concerns about being compensated by the mine.

No tribal lease

“We’ve got this mine that we are only depending on. There’s nothing in store for our future and can you imagine they’re trying to take all the chrome underground,” says Ntuane. 

Ntuane adds: “We [as the traditional authority] haven’t signed any lease agreement with [the current owners of the mine]. We’ve fought tooth and nail to check whether they’re trading under the tribal lease, what kind of tribal lease [it is] and to which people it belongs. 

“Even up to date, these people are right in our land, but we’ve never seen any tribal lease. If the Batlhako Ba Leema, who are the owners of this land, do not know them, their lease and their contracts are trading illegally.”

Pankowski agrees that no lease agreement has been signed with the community as this “was a situation we inherited when we took over the mine in November 2017, and we have been working with the tribal council from the moment we took over … We are currently awaiting formal feedback from them on a proposal we sent them in July, and we would like to urge the tribal leadership to resume discussions with us so that we can find a way forward on this important issue.”

Ntuane says Horizon Chrome has a questionable social labour plan for the community. “It’s an insult. They’re not contributing anything to the tribal council,” he says. “If that was the case, you could have seen from the village. We don’t have roads and there’s nothing that shows that we have mines or minerals. They’re always making promises, which always end in oblivion.”

He adds that the council has tried in vain to contact numerous government departments to intervene. “We fought tooth and nail,” he says. “We said the government should force these people to produce documents, but still nothing.”

5 December 2019: To earn money for food in the absence of their breadwinners’ salaries, many families living near Horizon Chrome turn to waste picking in search of recyclable materials.
5 December 2019: To earn money for food in the absence of their breadwinners’ salaries, many families living near Horizon Chrome turn to waste picking in search of recyclable materials.
If you want to republish this article please read our guidelines.