The story of Lily Mine is far from over. Worse still, it is nowhere near reaching finality. As each corporate giant flexes its muscles against the other, the affected families at Lily Mine remain on the side-lines. So, what is really going on? Well perhaps one should take this opportunity to paint a much clearer picture for South Africans. One that isn’t marred with confusing legal jargon that no one fully understands.
LILY MINE COLLAPSES, MINERS TRAPPED UNDERGROUND
On 05 February 2016 at about 08:10am three young miners were left trapped underground after the surface ground, along with a shipping container that the miners used as a lamp room caved into old underground mine workings at Lily Mine in Louisville, east of Barberton in Mpumalanga Province.
A portion of the crown pillar on Level 4 of the main mine failed, collapsing at the upper western portion adjacent to the mine entrance. Tragically three surface employees Pretty Nkambule; Yvonne Mnisi; and Solomon Nyirenda were buried in the sinkhole and disappeared underground.
Soon thereafter, following two attempts at rescuing the miners, the owners of the mine, Vantage Goldfields put the mine under business rescue. Why? The collapse meant that they were unable to continue mining. With mounting debts, various companies put their hands up as creditors to bid for the mine with the provision that they would implement business rescue plans that incorporate the safe retrieval of the lamp room container.
ENTER THE TITANS
Sounds reasonable right? Wrong! Well at least according to those who seemingly have the most to lose. After numerous bids, two remain: On the one hand there’s Vantage Goldfields, current owners of Makonjwaan Imperial Mining Company Proprietary Limited (MIMCO), a Vantage Goldfields Pty Ltd Company. And on the other, Arqomanzi, an entity formed by Siyakhula Sisonke Corporation (SSC) subsidiary, Flaming Silver 373 and Taung Gold. Confused yet? Stay with me. These two corporate structures are beyond complex. One doesn’t easily understand who owns who and who must be held liable for what, but don’t worry, I have been involved in this saga long enough. Back to the titans.
A HISTORY OF LITIGATION
SSC, the owners of Arqomanzi have been involved in prolonged litigation with Vantage Gold’s South African subsidiary, Vantage Goldfields SA (VGSA). Back and forth the two have gone at each other litigating left, right and centre, and while they do that, Pretty Nkambule; Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyirenda’s remains are nowhere near retrieval.
On or about 15 February 2021, Vantage Goldfields Ltd (VGO) and Vantage Goldfields SA (Pty) Ltd (VGSA) to prove their capability to rescue the mine, provided surety to the business rescue practitioner’s (BRP’s) that they would be able to fund the business rescue plans proposed by the BRP’s in the form of a “Financial Capability Statement” from HSBC Hong Kong, one of the world’s largest banks.
In providing this surety, VGO and VGSA proposed to the BRP’s that they be allowed to fund the adopted business rescue plans. On consideration of the Vantage proposal, the BRP’s accepted the Vantage’s surety and proceeded with the implementation of the adopted plans in accordance with their proposal.
Displeased by the BRP’s decision to implement the business rescue plans in line with the Vantage proposal as opposed to their own, Arqomanzi brought an urgent application seeking an interdict against the BRP’s alleged unlawful implementation of the Vantage proposal. On 31 May 2021, in a judgement handed down by Judge Legodi, Arqomanzi obtained a final interdict against the BRPs.
One must acknowledge the part played by those such as Herman Mashaba and his party, ActionSA, in providing legal support for the families of the lost miners. It was through their submissions that an order was provided that any award made must be both time-bound and an order of court, so that any further delays could see the business rescue practitioner held in contempt. Indeed, ActionSA’s submissions detailed the obscene delays in the business rescue proceedings that began in 2018, the extent of human suffering and the denial of human rights to the former miners and families in terms of their ability to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones, trapped underground since February 2016.
Dissatisfied with Judge Legodi’s ruling, VGO and VGSA lodged an application for leave to appeal Judge Legodi’s judgement but was dismissed. They have subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeal for leave to appeal against the order of Judge Legodi for which judgement has yet to be provided.
ALLEGATIONS OF FRAUD
On 8 October 2021, the lawyers representing the Lily Mine families as made possible by the involvement of ActionSA received notification from Arqomanzi that following their internal investigations, it was discovered that the surety provided by VGO and VGSA had been falsified. The implication is that Arqomanzi alleges that VGO and VGSA do not have sufficient funding to implement the business rescue plans as represented.
Arqomanzi has now proceeded to lay criminal charges against the liable entities and individuals acting on behalf of VGO and VGSA and has indicated its intention to report the fraud to the appropriate authorities.
The BRP’s have indicated that they take Arqomanzi’s allegations seriously and consequently have requested a response from the various entities implicated in Arqomanzi’s allegations. They have further indicated that will conduct their own independent investigations into the allegations made by Arqomanzi. VGO and VGSA have issued a statement denying the allegations levied against them and maintain that they have the necessary funds to complete the business rescue process.
WHEN ELEPHANTS FIGHT, THE GRASS SUFFERS
Why are they fighting you ask? Well, it is now an open secret that VGSA has been unwilling to sell to any entity associated with SSC.
Today, years since the collapse of Lily Mine, Vantage and Arqomanzi continue to be at each other’s throats. Following the court’s ruling that the business rescue practitioners had acted unlawfully on two occasions in stalling the implementation of the business rescue plans and have them voted on to proceed, the BRPs are seemingly ignoring the court’s ruling and going about the business of stalling the process.
It is important to note that while all the shenanigans between the two titans with obvious deep vested interests in Lily Mine continue, the implementation of the plans that would result in the payment of all creditors and the eventual recovery of the container which contains the bodies of the Lily Mine three, as well as the re-opening of the mine will continue to remain elusive.
What’s even more concerning is the loud silence of our government. And so, it remains to be seen as to who’s fooling who as the Lily Mine saga continues. In my humble opinion, these are simply games played by those who have both time and money on their side, sadly, one cannot say the same for the Lily Mine families.
Harry Mazibuko is the Official Spokesperson for the Lily Mine Families