- Union calls for inquiry into deaths at the mine

South African owned high-grade copper and silver mine, Khoemacau in the Ngamiland District has been hit by allegations of racism.

Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) says that racism is a reality in the mine, especially concerning qualifications for management positions.

"For instance, while the Mines and Quarries Act stipulates that every manager in the mine should not only have the requisite qualification but should be registered with a recognised regulatory body, some members of the mine’s top management are not duly registered with professional bodies,” BMWU president Joseph Tsimako said in an interview with Botswana Guardian.

According to Tsimako, it is common for whites to be assigned jobs they do not qualify for while their black counterparts are sidelined even if they have the requisite qualifications.

Unfortunately, the handling of certain equipment by people whose only qualification is their skin colour, has led to fatal accidents.

In a press statement entitled, 'Poor Health and Safety Standards in Mining Operations: Fatalities at Khoemacau Copper Mine (KCM),' the BMWU General Secretary Maenge Maenge said the union has been inundated with reports and allegations of victimisation, favourritism and blatant racism by foreign management against local employees at KCM.

KCM is an Australian sub-constructing company doing work for the Khoemacau mine. The union is further concerned about reports that there are unqualified experts from Australia working at Khoemacau Copper Mine under the guise of skills transfer.

It is further alleged that the so-called local understudies are in fact more qualified and experienced than these purported experts from Australia.

Maenge, who blames management for the two recent fatalities at the mine, is calling upon authorities to probe into KCM operations and its management.

“We call on the government and specifically the Department of Mines to enforce compliance with the mining regulations under the Mines, Quarries Works and Machinery Regulations on the following,” he said in the press release.

Further, the union leader wants government to cause the accident investigation report and inquiry proceedings to be shared with BMWU.

The union leader would also like a partial closure of KCM Operations and calls upon government to demand for a skills and qualification audit of KCM supervisory personnel.

BMWU wants government to hold Khoemacau Copper Mining General Manager accountable for the negligence of its sub-contractor resulting in the death of two employees as per regulations of the Mines Quarries and Works Act.

The union also wants the mine to compensate the dependents of the deceased beyond what is provided for in the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The union further wants becomes one of the entities to be notified as of right under the mining regulation in the event of a fatality. In the press statement, the union made it clear that it is not surprised by the accident.

According to BMWU, the fatalities have merely shed light on the kind of employers the country has admitted. Maenge is not happy that the mine management has been reluctant to permit the union into the mine operations which action believes denied the workers their right to associate and collectively bargain for better conditions of work including on safety and health related matters.

The BMWU is not happy that the two Australian companies, KCM and Parenti, are contracted by Khoemacau Mine. KCM and Parenti are Australian companies that are undertaking a massive mining project in Botswana which project has gone unsupervised and unregulated since conception.

“We understand that Australians are well renowned for their mining prowess. However, in Botswana they have been allowed to run amok, violating labour laws, flouting mining regulations, ill-treating Batswana workers and doing so with impunity.

“This system of oppression by multinational companies should stop with immediate effect. We say to them that they should be warned because this conduct will no longer be tolerated by the union,” Maenge threatened.

However, the Human Resources and Communications Manager, Mmama Mhlanga-Fichani insists there are no racial practices at Khoemacau.

According to her, there is no tolerance for racism or discrimination of any form in the mine as that would be in conflict with the Code of Conduct.

“All members are bound by the Code of Conduct and any lapses in this regard are treated with utmost seriousness as we strive to ensure fair, transparent and a safe working environment for all free from any prejudice,” she said.

She added that platforms exist in the organisation for people to anonymously share with management concerns pertaining to racism. Mhlanga also explained that contrary to allegations, accommodation is allocated per demographic area irrespective of sex, creed or colour.

“To this end, Zone 5 accommodates all our employees and constructors who work in our Zone 5 mines. Tudika accommodates all our processing facility at Boseto. The accommodation units are fully furnished and accommodate all our employees and contractors; local and international.

“We are proud to note that our complex Boseto processing operation is managed, led by and operated almost fully by Batswana colleagues,” the Human Resource and Communications Manager stated.

She added that all employees are provided with three meals a day. According to her, the Company always strives to provide food variety that is not only nutritionally balanced but also responsive to the diverse tastes of employees.

“The cost to company of these meals is the same no matter who is receiving which meals,” she stated further denying the presence of any tented accommodation at Kgwebe and Tudika.