Struggling diamond producer, Lerala Mine shut down on Tuesday, leaving more than 130 workers stranded without any official word on their May salaries, benefits or future, Mmegi has learnt.
Tuesday’s closure was the third time in its history that Lerala Mine has closed shop, having shut down in February 2009 and July 2012.
Unionists told Mmegi that the company’s Australian owners, Kimberly Diamonds, had simply ordered the mine shut without paying workers their May salaries, citing weak sales.
Reports from the ground yesterday described a scene of chaos as scores of workers scrambled to source funds to move out of the mine compound, or out of the rented accommodation in the village. Landlords were reportedly holding onto former workers’ assets, locking these in their former homes and demanding outstanding dues.
Police were reportedly on site on Tuesday and yesterday, although Maunatlala station commander, superintendent Ogaufi George said no disturbances had been recorded.
“We heard that the mine had closed and while we were there yesterday and today, there was no disturbance or any trouble,” he said.
Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) national organising coordinator, Abel Buka told Mmegi that workers first sensed trouble last week, before Ascension Day, when their salaries went unpaid for May.
He said when the general manager enquired from Australia on the matter, he was informed Kimberly Diamonds was finalising a deal with a Chinese financier to get out of the troubles.
“On May 29, the GM again engaged the headquarters and told them that it was now four days after pay day and workers were anxious,” Buka said.
“That’s when the response came saying ‘there’s no money, so just close the mine and you and the workers must leave the premises.’” Buka
“This is not done in Botswana, where you just say a mine is closed,” Buka said.
“Our concern is that there has been no proper process followed. Also, diamonds are a precious mineral and a national asset, but you are simply closing the mine and just leaving guards outside.
“People are in problems. They don’t have salaries and don’t know what to do. They have to pay their commitments and they need to know what will happen in future.”
The unionist said efforts were being made to urgently contact the Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security minister, Sadique Kebonang for his intervention.
“Former workers are meeting everyday by the football field in Lerala and they don’t know the way forward. As a union, we are trying to gather all the information and take the feedback to our executive, before taking further decisions.”
Originally opened in 2008 by Australian firm DiamonEx, Lerala has battled cycles in the diamond market, being sold to UK junior, Mantle before passing to another Australian firm, Kimberly Diamonds in 2013.
The mineral resource of the diamond mine as at December 31, 2015 was estimated at 20.1 million tonnes at 24.2 carats per hundred tonnes pointing to 4.9 million carats.
Kimberly had targeted an annual output of 360,000 carats from Lerala over seven years.