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Fear and death stalk RBM mine

Sep 04 2016 07:42
Paddy Harper

KwaMbonambi residents in a standoff with RBM. The situation has intensified following a wave of murders. Picture: Siyanda Mayeza

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The general manager for human resources at Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) at KwaMbonambi in northern KwaZulu-Natal was gunned down this week in the latest in a series of shocking developments at the troubled Rio Tinto mine.

On Tuesday night Ronny Nzimande (39) was shot several times as he parked his BMW X5 in the driveway of his home in Pipe Fish Road in the north coast town’s Meerensee suburb.

Nzimande’s attackers, who struck as he arrived home from work at the mine, riddled his car with more than 20 bullets in the attack.

He died at a nearby hospital.

Nzimande joined RBM, which has been plagued by ongoing community protests over jobs and contract opportunities, on January 1 2015.

His murder follows those of community activist and local youth leader Thokozani Mbika (33) and his cousin Ndoda Mbika (36) on July 31 – as well as a series of increasingly violent protests by residents in the Mbuyazi and Sokhulu tribal authorities.

No arrests have been made in connection with the killings, which were carried out with automatic weapons.

Thokozani’s killers – who shot Ndoda after mistaking him for Thokozani’s activist brother – left a note at the scene of his murder with a threat to eliminate all the members of a jobseekers committee set up by a local youth committee.

They also come days after five RBM staff members – including Fundi Dlamini, the general manager for community and corporate relations – were suspended, pending an internal investigation into alleged violations of the company’s code of conduct.

Dlamini has been the RBM manager responsible for liaison with the host communities where the mine has been operating for the past 40 years.

He has been at the forefront of trying to resolve the latest wave of community protests.

The other suspended staff members are understood to be part of its procurement division.

According to sources in RBM, Nzimande, as head of human resources, was involved in the current investigation.

A spokesperson for RBM told City Press the company was “deeply saddened” by Nzimande’s murder.

“This is a tragedy for everyone at RBM and in our community. RBM is cooperating fully with the SA Police Service to support its investigation into this matter,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson confirmed the suspensions of the five, “pending further investigations into compliance with our code of conduct”.

“The investigation remains ongoing and will continue until all lines of inquiry are completed.

“It is important that we respect the process and do not make any judgements until all of the investigations have been concluded.

“Should any breaches be found to have occurred, they will be treated seriously and addressed in a transparent, consistent and respectful way.”

The spokesperson declined to name the suspended employees, but said it had nothing to do with the community unrest.

Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala confirmed the murder of Nzimande and said no arrests had been made.

“It is alleged that the deceased was parking outside his house when he was ambushed by the suspect, who opened fire, and he sustained gunshot wounds.

“The motive is unknown and a case of murder was opened. No arrests have been made,” she said.

Staff members, who spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity, said the situation at the RBM mine and smelter, which employs 2 000 full-time and 2 000 contract workers, was tense.

“Things are bad here. People are scared by what is happening. The situation could get very bad,” said one employee.

“There are all sorts of rumours and nobody knows what will happen next.

“People believe that there have been people in the background stoking the fires of the protests, and that this is linked to the suspensions and the killings. It is hard to believe anything else.”

The situation in the area has been exacerbated by a dispute over the traditional leadership which has resulted in more than R30 million in land claims, payable to the Mbuyazi clan, being held in trust by RBM.

Provincial government, which precipitated the leadership crisis by deposing the sitting inkosi, Sibusiso Mbuyazi, is now attempting to settle the legal dispute between itself and his widow, Sthembile.

The provincial economic development ministry has also intervened, attempting to set up talks to facilitate getting jobs and contracts for the community.

Lulama Cele Boughey of the Free KwaMbonambi Campaign, which has been lobbying for the resolution of the conflict, said they were still waiting to hear from government about the process.

richards bay minerals  |  rio tinto  |  mining
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