Unemployment, service delivery issues and overcrowding plague settlements near closed mines
AngloGold has promised not to repeat what has become a pattern with old gold mines where they get repeatedly sold on to smaller speculative companies until, almost inevitably, they go broke.
Liquidation generally ensues with workers robbed of severance pay and environmental liabilities entering a legal no-man’s-land.
Harmony Gold, which was built on old second-hand gold mines, represents the best-case scenario.
The infamous collapse of Pamodzi Gold represents the worst case – incidentally involving some of the same mines that Harmony eventually sold on.
Blyvoor was sold to Village Main Reef in 2012, only a year before going into liquidation. This year a new company, Blyvoor Gold, is talking about reopening one shaft on the property.
AngloGold is pumping water from two of Blyvoor’s shafts. With its nearby Mponeng mine still promising a fairly long lifespan in the area, the company will be voluntarily dewatering the mines for the foreseeable future.
AngloGold CEO Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan earlier told City Press the company would be very circumspect about selling its old operations the way it did in the late 1990s. “We are cognisant of what has happened at some other mines,” he said.
Molefe says he is thankful Blyvoor’s village has not deteriorated in the same way that the village at the Buffelsfontein mine outside Klerksdorp has. The mine was closed in 2013, also by Village Main Reef.
The Blyvoor village still has water, but only because the association took the municipality to court. There has been a protracted attempt to reach a deal with Eskom to install prepaid electricity meters in the village.
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Early on in the liquidation the village was sold to a private property developer who instituted rentals of R3 500 to R4 500. This developer withdrew.
An insider-outsider dynamic has now evolved with the residents’ association trying to keep village inhabitants from subletting mine houses. Several houses on the fringes of the village are occupied despite very clearly suffering sinkhole damage – a perennial problem due to the intensive mining of the area over decades.
“It is heartbreaking. We had 1 700 employees at liquidation and some were not staying here. We had 950 households and the two hostels,” said Molefe. “Now we have 6 000 people. There is a lot of overcrowding.”
Joseph Rammusa, another member of the Blyvoor residents’ association, started working at Blyvoor in 1980.
He witnessed first-hand the decline of Carletonville as one of the world’s major gold fields.
“Carletonville has been affected by a lot of retrenchments. Merafong was a mining city.
“When I started here I think we were about 18 000 people on this mine.
“I have seen retrenchments every year or two years. We have gone through a lot at this mine.
“It is going to affect us,” he says of the TauTona retrenchments.
“Some of the lucky people staying here in our village got employment there [after the liquidation].
“Any retrenchments are last-in-first-out, so obviously those from Blyvoor that were employed by TauTona will get retrenched first,” said Rammusa.
“It is not only affecting the village. It affects Carletonville. Those businesses doing business with TauTona will be affected. The guys working supplying pipes will get retrenched. It is a broad circle, it does not only affect us mine people.”
In 2013 Rammusa was working in Blyvoor’s printing office when he was given an order to translate the mine’s noticeboards: operations are to cease immediately.
“Maybe after a month or two it starts sinking in and you realise it is true, you are unemployed. Your life stops dead, you have no income. I had been working here for 32 years, so you can imagine.
“Within a month it was a free-for-all. There was no security,” he said.
Despite the core village being mostly intact, several mine offices and a large recreation centre on the Blyvoor grounds have been stripped down to almost nothing.