The Gupta family – fighting for financial survival in the High Court – also face the threat of revolt by thousands of mineworkers they employ.
The Times visited two of the Gupta-owned mines, Optimum Coal, in Mpumalanga, and Shiva Uranium, in North West, ahead of a Pretoria High Court judgment on Monday on an application by the family’s companies for an order that would stop the Bank of Baroda from closing their accounts.
Judge Tati Makgoka on Monday granted an application by 20 Gupta-linked companies for an interim interdict to postpone the closures.
The Gupta family has been given 15 days to launch its court application for a final interdict against the closure of their bank accounts.
If they fail to meet that deadline, the interim interdict will become final by default.
But while the Guptas use the fate of their 7500 workers to bolster their arguments against the closure of their only remaining bank account after a series of withdrawals of services by other banks, many of those same workers are praying they will simply sell the mines and leave. They are demanding they be paid irrespective of the “political war” they believe the family is embroiled in.
Last week workers at Optimum went on strike when wages were paid late, and on Tuesday it was revealed that contract workers at the mine had staged a go-slow, refusing to work until everyone was paid for September. They were paid on Friday.
“The Guptas must just go away,” said one Optimum employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, “especially after Glencore [the previous owners of the colliery were said to be] retrenching workers because of Eskom.”
The employee said the workers later learned from news reports that the retrenchments had been “discussed somewhere else”, a reference to the Guptas.
Last month the Oakbay group announced the sale of shares in its mining interests to a United Arab Emirates businessman, Amin al-Zarooni.
“We are disturbed by the situation. Workers were told that, with the banks closing the accounts, some payments were late,” Mthombeni said.
At Shiva the situation is far more serious.
About 208 workers employed through a labour broker, Quatrotec, are now without a job after Shiva terminated Quatrotec’s contract with immediate effect on September 29.
A letter, signed by Shiva CEO George van der Merwe, called the decision “hard and difficult” but said it was unavoidable because Quatrotec workers had defied a Labour Court interdict against striking.
The owner of Quatrotec, Isabel van Rensburg, refused to comment last Wednesday and would only say the matter would be taken to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
Maja Mphahlele, the National Union of Mineworkers Matlosana regional co-ordinator, said he was waiting for a meeting this week with mine management after an initial meeting on Tuesday.
He said he had been told that information about plans for the mine would be available this week.
“There was an indication that they want to do restructuring, and retain only 50% of the workforce.”
“I am worried, but I think it’s not up to me. I want my money, I want my salary,” said Amogelang Mogapi, a 35-year-old father of four who has worked at Shiva, under Quatrotec, for the past seven years.