Kamogelo Olaitan & Arthur Greene
The Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) is currently embroiled in a miners’ strike for exploiting its workers – but this is not the mine’s first brush with human rights violations.
On Wednesday, 75 workers emerged from two of ZAC’s mineshafts in Nongoma after occupying it for almost two weeks. They were eventually forced out when management turned off oxygen supplies to the shafts.
But one doesn’t have to go back very far to find the last allegations of major wrongdoing made against it.
In January of this year, it was discovered that the mine had spilled about 1.5 million litres of liquid coal waste into nearby water streams, including into the Umfolozi River system.
This was after the collapse of a wastewater slurry dam at the coal mine.
This caused concerns that the spillage might affect the ecosystem of the nearby Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve and the world heritage site Isimangaliso Wetland Park.
Rural farmers say they have been fighting the mine for years for poisoning their livestock and posing a danger to human life.
Zululand District Municipality mayor Thulasizwe Buthelezi condemned the pollution in January and called for the company’s mining licence to be revoked.
“Our municipality has invested more than R30 million into water infrastructure that is now being contaminated by the mine,” said Buthelezi.
In 2014 the mine was fined R497,000 for ignoring environmental laws.
The KZN Department of Environmental Affairs fined the mine for opening three new coal mining shafts near the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve without authorisation from the department.
Located in the rural village of Okhukho near Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal, the mine’s 74% majority owner is Menar Holding with Maweni Mining Consortium as their BEE partner.
Maweni owns 26% of the mine and Ingwenya Trust chairperson Jerome Ngwenya is a shareholder and a director of ZAC.
Menar Holding, owned by Turkish businessman Vudlat Bayoglu, bought the mine from Rio Tinto in 2016.
The new owners were officially introduced in 2017 at an event that was attended by the then-KZN MEC for Economic Development and Tourism Sihle Zikalala with the late King Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu.
In 2016 one of the shafts was set on fire as well as an office block allegedly by local youth who wanted to be employed at the mine.
Network issues prevented Ngwenya from being able to respond to Scrolla.Africa’s questions in time for publication.