NUM hails court settlement that gives control of Optimum Coal Mine/Terminal to Liberty Coal

File photo of an entrance to the Optimum Kwagga coal mine then owned by Glencore.

File photo of an entrance to the Optimum Kwagga coal mine then owned by Glencore.

Published Feb 6, 2024


The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) says a court settlement that gives control of the Optimum Coal Mine and the Optimum Coal Terminal into the hands of Liberty Coal will save more than 500 jobs through resumption of production at the Mpumalanga operation previously controlled by the Gupta family.

Controversy has dogged Optimum Coal Mine ever since the Gupta family was disgraced as corrupt and having captured state institutions to push through their businesses and deals.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) last week obtained a court application in its favour for two forfeiture orders on the grounds that the Guptas bought the mine with proceeds from corruption.

Liberty Coal and the NPA jointly approached the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, with the support of various other vested parties for an order for settlement that would allow the Optimum Mine to exit business rescue, trade as a going concern and to begin the process of rebuilding the mine.

Judge Janse van Nieuwenhuizen delivered the judgment last week on Thursday, putting to rest the acrimonious battle for the control of the mine. Several other companies had also reportedly been interesting in snapping up the former Gupta-owned mine.

Oakbay, a company of the Guptas and former president Jacob Zuma’s family, bought Optimum from Glencore in 2016 for $145 million (R2.5 billion currently).

The mine, at one time the third largest opencast operation in South Africa, supplied thermal coal to the local and export markets.

NUM said “more than 500 jobs are to be saved after the NPA and the Liberty Coal negotiated a R462m forfeiture settlement” over mining rights for the mine.

Bizza Motubatse, NUM’s Highveld regional chairperson, said: “The NUM calls for the Liberty Coal to re-employ all the employees who lost their jobs during the time when Optimum Coal Mine was placed under business rescue. The NUM reiterates its position that the NPA’s preservation order against Optimum Coal Mine assets was a final nail in the coffin of the workers who suffered at the hands of the Gupta family’s shenanigan.”

In addition to gaining control of Optimum Coal Mine, Liberty Coal has also attained ownership of the Optimum Coal Terminal.

NUM is now calling upon the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) board “to immediately give back Optimum’s train allocation so as to allow for the resumption of Optimum’s export capacity which will ensure that the reopening of the mine forges ahead” unhindered.

NUM, which represents mining industry employees, criticised President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government for failing to “protect the poor”, including affected employees from Optimum. The union blamed the Guptas for bringing Optimum to its knees and rendering it unable to pay employees’ salaries.

“We are simply saying that we are happy that eventually the NPA has arrived into its senses For years now members of the NUM at Optimum Coal Mine have been suffering due to unemployment. When the NPA decided to close that particular mine it had a negative impact on our members who were unable to work for their families,” said Motubatse.

Liberty Coal stressed that the settlement was purely for commercial reasons. Liberty Coal will pay more than R460m to the state and assume liability for a further R1bn owed to various creditors.