HARMONY Gold said a full criminal investigation was underway following the murder yesterday of the regional mine manager of its Tshepong and Phakisa mining operations near Welkom in South Africa’s Free State province.
The gold mining firm confirmed today that Simphiwe Kubekha, the regional general manager of Tshepong and Phakisa, was shot and killed on his way home. “At this stage there is investigation by the South African Police Service,” said Lauren Fourie, spokeswoman for Harmony Gold.
She added that Harmony Gold’s security personnel were assisting with the investigation in order to find the perpetrators. According to a Miningmx source, Kubekha had been attacked by illegal gold miners or so-called Zama-Zamas. “There is various speculation as to whom and why, but cannot confirm anything at this stage,” said Fourie in an e-mailed statement.
“We are all in shock and disbelief at the loss and lawlessness of this tragic event,” she added. Fourie added that the company was unaware of other speculation that Kubekha’s assistant had been kidnapped by Zama-Zama’s last week. Some R1m in ransom money was allegedly demanded.
Illegal gold mining is rampant in South Africa.
Christo de Klerk, CEO of Mines Rescue Services (MRS), was quoted in a Miningmx article in September last year as saying that illegal gold mining was worth an estimated R6bn annually, and that it was is spiraling out of control. MRS – a volunteer organisation linked to the Chamber of Mines – undertakes the grisly work of recovering the bodies of dead illegal miners from the horrendously unsafe situations underground where they were killed.
In June, Sibanye-Stillwater said it had dismissed workers at its Cooke gold operations, west of Johannesburg, following several days of unprotected strike action related to the firm’s clamp-down on illegal mining. There were reported threats and intimidation at the operations which resulted in 16 employees being “seriously assaulted” whilst attempting to report for work, the company said at the time.
“Illegal mining is a significant threat, not only to the safety of our employees and surrounding communities, but to the viability of operations,” said Wayne Robinson, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold division.
“Despite adequate communication with employees and agreement with major unions, this strike action supports our view that there is significant collusion taking place through the industry that supports this illegal and dangerous activity,” he said in June.
Robinson said hundreds of illegal miners had surfaced from underground at the Cooke mines. In the end, an astonishing number of 665 illegal miners were arrested. “We condemn any violence and intimidation against employees and will take appropriate action against any perpetrators,” said Robinson.