THE assassinations of two top executives at titanium producer Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) were linked to “control of procurement issues” and not money due to community trusts from which the group had at one stage been holding back R130m in payments.
RBM MD Werner Duvenhage told a media conference held on Monday at the Mining Indaba being held in Cape Town that the latest information obtained by the group clearly indicated the reason for the assassinations was procurement.
RBM GM Nico Swart was shot to death in May 2021 on his way to work. This followed the earlier assassination in 2016 of RBM human resources general manager Ronny Nzimande.
Following the death of Swart, RBM released some R130m in dividends due to local communities and trusts that – in some cases – had been held back since 2015 because of RBM management’s concerns over governance issues surrounding the trusts.
These involved the independence of the trustees of the community trusts while RBM management was not happy that certain individuals were also to receive payments of dividend declarations in their personal capacities.
The suggestion – denied at the time by Duvenhage – was that RBM had been “blackmailed” into paying out the funds because of the murder of Swart.
Instead, Duvenhage maintained that RBM paid the money out after getting an agreement with the communities that they would commit to negotiations to reform the trusts and that, until the reforms were finalised, money would not flow directly to individuals.
“We paid the money out and the communities straightaway reneged on the agreement so we have been taking it further through the courts since then.
“We have also taken very specific steps around how we manage the trusts issue. Only one person talks about the trusts and that’s me. You will only find one name on the affidavits and that’s mine. We have made it very clear there is no one else you can fiddle with that is going to impact where we are going with the trusts.
“On January 26 we had the court hearing to change the trust deeds. Judgement was reserved so we are waiting to hear that judgement,” Duvenhage said.
He added that no further funds had been paid to communities since the R130m payment because RBM had not declared a dividend since then.
“None of our shareholders have received any funds since the end of 2019 because we cannot release money into an environment like this. We have made it clear that there is no money so it does not help to do anything.”
Asked if he was concerned about the safety of his executives given this situation Duvenhage replied: “We are taking that extremely seriously. The majority of the senior leaders at RBM travel to work in armoured vehicles with close protection officers. Until we have dealt with this situation we just don’t know.”
In her presentation to the Mining Indaba, Rio Tinto CEO Sinead Kaufman said “the application in the Pietmaritzburg High Court seeking to strengthen the RBM community trusts was a significant milestone. The future of the trusts will be defined in a way that improves governance, transparency and accountability.”