As violent clashes in the South African mining industry are escalating, the death toll is rising and company bosses and unions are calling on the government for action. After yet another a senior mine employee was murdered, the already sensitive situation is reaching boiling point. Officers of the South African Police Force (SAPS) were called in to investigate, and speculation about the murder is rife.
On Thursday 28 September at around 6pm the regional manager of Harmony Gold, Simphiwe Kubheka was shot dead at Harmony Mines in Welkom, South Africa. He was discovered in his car having sustained two bullet wounds, and a murder case was opened shortly after. At this point police spokesperson Brigadier Sam Makhele said that they are investigating all leads, including speculation that the murder was in retaliation to Kubekha trying to root out illegal mining at Harmony.
Also known as zama-zamas, illegal mineworkers have been linked with several deaths, violent strikes and other forms of violence and lawlessness. Sibanye Gold fired 99 workers after they were caught helping illegal miners by supplying food to them underground, despite being warned not to. Mvelisi Biyela, a health and safety officer of the Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) was gunned down and killed at his home while his wife and child were watching in August. According to Joseph Mathunjwa, president of AMCU, five of their members have been killed recently, and yet no arrests were made.
Andre Venter, spokesperson of the mining union United Association of South Africa (UASA), says that zama-zamas are to blame for the violence. Venter claimed that Kubheka was killed because he was “…fearlessly working towards eradicating corruption in the industry.” The union spokesperson furthermore expressed rage and concern that the level of poverty, unemployment and greed, combined with poor leadership could plummet South Africa into anarchy. The violence and killings are senseless, but the reasons behind them are not going to disappear overnight. As long as these major issues in South Africa exist, illegal mining will persist. People are desperate, and desperation calls for desperate measures.
After the brutal murder of Simphiwe Kubheka, Harmony Gold started tightening security measures in its operational areas. Investor relations manager of Harmony Gold, Lauren Fourie, said that the mine’s security team will work in collaboration with the SAPS to find the perpetrators and take them to justice. Although the mine has held back major public responses Fourie did make a brief statement in which it was confirmed that Harmony emphatically condemns illegal mining practices, and that there were several programs put in place with the aim of stamping it out. Fourie and Harmony also took an ambivalent stand when saying, “It’s still very unclear whether the murder of Simphiwe (Kubheka) is related to illegal mining.” In early October three suspects aged 27, 35 and 25 were arrested and charged with murder. The court case is on-going.