SUMMARY:  The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has come out in support of amendments to the business rescue plan intended to re-open Lily Mine and retrieve the container with three trapped mineworkers after the Lily Mine Disaster which took place on 5 February 2016.  The Union has filed in affidavit in support of the amended plan following an interim interdict granted by the Nelspruit High Court.  AMCU also reacts to what it calls opportunistic forces engaging in a smear campaign for political and financial gain.

On 26 February 2021, the High Court in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga issued an interim interdict to interdict and restrain the implementation of amended business rescue plan pertaining to Lily Mine.  Interested parties were invited to participate in the process by showing cause why the interdict should not be granted.

The amendments to the Lily Mine business rescue plan include that all approved secured claims, approved post-amendment funding claims and approved preferent claims would be discharged by means of payment to such creditors of an amount equal to 100% of their approved claims in two tranches. First, 65% of all the approved claims would be paid to the relevant creditors within 15 business days of the effective date of the amendment to the business rescue plan; and the balance of 35% would be paid within 60 business days of the effective date of the amendment to the business rescue plan. 

Similarly, all approved concurrent creditor claims would be discharged by means of payment to such creditors of an amount that constitutes 30% of their approved claims in two tranches. First, 65% of all the approved claims would be paid to the relevant creditors within 15 business days of the effective date of the amendment to the business rescue plan; and the balance of 35% would be paid within 60 business days of the effective date of the amendment to the business rescue plan.  

The amendments also indicate the intention to commence with the implementation of the plan for the re-opening of the Lily Mine by 2 July 2021.  

“As AMCU, we fully support these amendments,” said AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa.  “It is not a moment too soon that we can start rebuilding and getting closure.  Our three comrades have been trapped in the belly of the earth for five years, and their families and loved ones have not had the luxury of closure since then.  All of the employees have also suffered without the monies owed to them, and without a livelihood to put bread on the table”, Mathunjwa added.

AMCU is the majority trade union at Lily Mine and the Branch leadership at the mine is still functional even though operations have stopped since 2016 when the collapse of a mine shaft trapped a container with three (3) mineworkers underground.  The three mineworkers, Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyerende remained underground since the incident, leaving their families and loved ones without closure.

Every year on 5 February since 2017, AMCU has organised commemoration events at the site to commemorate the Lily Mine Disaster.  Due to the Covid-19 regulations, this year’s commemoration focused on a virtual commemoration and an awareness campaign on social media.  

AMCU was therefore in full support of the amendments insofar as it could give much needed relief to all involved after five (5) difficult years.  However, due to the interim interdict all payments have ceased until such time as the Court hands down its order.

AMCU has since filed an affidavit in support of the opposition by the BRPs and the Vantage Group to Arqomanzi’s application because the Vantage Plans that were previously adopted have been improved and payments have, according to the BRPs, already started being made.

“As AMCU, we want what is best for our members, the families of the trapped comrades, as well as the greater communities around these operations,” said Mathunjwa.  “For this reason, AMCU supports the plan which can deal with these matters as soon as possible,” he added.

AMCU’s support for the amendments has, however, not gone unnoticed.  Since last week, a smear campaign started whereby detractors attempted to show that AMCU’s support against Arqomanzi’s application somehow meant that they were abandoning the cause.  The smear campaign included the circulation of half-truths and skewed information to members, as well as a statement issued by a certain Harry Mazibuko, a self-appointed spokesperson of the families.  

“AMCU will never be accountable to these kinds of groupings who are formed with opportunistic objectives.  We dismiss with contempt all insinuations purporting that we have abandoned our members or that we have abandoned the cause to retrieve our fallen comrades”, said Mathunjwa.  

“Quite the opposite is true.  AMCU had a recognition agreement with Lily Mine and we are still the majority trade union.  We have fought the struggle on behalf of our comrades who were earning peanuts when we came there.  We have ensured that they achieved better conditions of employment, unreservedly, until 5 February 2016 when the disaster happened”, said Mathunjwa.  

From day one after the Lily Mine Disaster, AMCU has been on the forefront, and the President of AMCU dealt with the situation himself.  He went underground under very dangerous conditions and had endless engagements with stakeholders including the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), the Branch leadership, community leaders, as well as the families of the comrades who are trapped in the container.

AMCU was consistently providing sustenance support to the members and their families where possible, and also led a march to hand over a memorandum to the DMRE on 18 August 2016.  AMCU appointed well-known law firm, Richard Spoor Incorporated to represent the workers and their families, and fully participated in the ensuing Business Rescue process that followed, securing the conditions of employment of workers including their salaries.

AMCU has written to the former State President, Honourable Jacob Zuma, as well as the sitting Minister of Minerals and Energy, Honourable Gwede Mantashe.  

“We need to understand that the government is the custodian of the minerals in our country, and it is also the regulator.  AMCU is a trade union, with a limited scope and limited powers in these matters”, said Mathunjwa.  “We have consistently done what we could at the opportune time, and we still continue to do what we can every day”, he added.  “The fact is that capitalism is inherently immoral, as is evident from these opportunistic vultures we see circling around Lily Mine today.  If there is no political will, we will always face difficulties.  AMCU should not be dragged into the myopic squabbles for the spoils”, Mathunjwa said.

AMCU has taken the issue of the Lily Mine Disaster and the retrieval of the container to Parliament, and also to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mining. 

“We have spared no expense, and now we see these vultures pursuing their narrow political and financial expediency at the expense of the grieving families and the rights of our members”, said Mathunjwa.  “As AMCU, all we want is to ensure optimal conditions of employment for the workers and social justice for the affected families and the communities around the mines”, he said.

“If it wasn’t for the interim interdict, the workers could have been paid something and the plan to reopen the mine could have already been in process”, said Mathunjwa.  “But because of this opportunism and the lust for self-enrichment, this cannot happen now anymore”, he said.  

“We have filed an affidavit in support of the opposition to the Arqomanzi application. If Arqomanzi’s application is successful, the business rescue process will be further delayed as plans must then again be published and another vote must be held to adopt the plans.  We are not businesspeople.  We are a trade union, fighting for our people.  AMCU is not in alliance with any company or any political formation.  We are supporting the cause as we have done from day one”, Mathunjwa concluded.  

The return day for the determination of Arqomanzi’s application has been set down for 4 May 2021at the Nelspruit High Court.

For interviews:  President Joseph Mathunjwa