Seventh heaven for Chinese miner

Lawyers acting for the Chinese mining company told Namibian Sun their client does not agree with the amount of money being demanded.

11 December 2019 | Business

The veil has been lifted on how a Chinese company has been mining copper in Namibia for over a decade while failing to pay over N$15 million to the Rehoboth town council for the leasing of the land and for electricity.

The foreign firm has also not paid for water and other services, while the mines ministry has also not received a cent. This shocking state of affairs was revealed by a Namibian Sun investigation into the ongoing activities of the Rehoboth copper mine that is majority-owned by the Chinese African Huaxia Group.

Before she left office in October this year, Natalia /Goagoses, who was appointed by urban and rural development minister Peya Mushelenga to run the affairs of the Rehoboth town council, told Namibian Sun that she had paid four visits to the mine's office in Windhoek to “plead” with them to pay the outstanding money.

“But every time we got there they were not there. We were told the manager was out of the country or he was not available,” she said.

/Goagoses added that she had to force her way into the mine just outside Rehoboth when she sought to discuss the non-payment issue.

/Goagoses recommended that new Rehoboth CEO Simeon Kanime take up the issue as a matter of urgency, and that attorney-general Albert Kawana or the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) should be asked to intervene.

Since leaving office, /Goagoses has declined to comment further on the matter.

Kanime confirmed that the mine management had refused to pay the council about N$15 million for the leasing of the land and electricity usage. The company is supposed to pay N$35 000 a month for the land, but no formal contract was ever signed.

“They have been playing hide and seek with the council. The contract was discussed with them, but they never signed. On the electricity, they paid for a while, but then they stopped and never paid a cent to the council,” he said.

Kanime has never been to the mining site and said his officials have been unable to enter it too.

“The gates were locked when the officials went there. Their lawyers are telling us now that their clients have no agreement and are not liable for the money we are asking from them,” said Kanime.

Chinese African Huaxia Group is represented by the Windhoek law firm Koepp and Partners.

Stefan van Zijl, who handles the matter at the firm, told Namibian Sun that their client does not agree with the amount of money being demanded.

Asked whether they would take /Goagoses's advice to approach the attorney-general for advice, Kanime said they must first meet with Mushelenga, but he had not found the time to do so.

Mushelenga said a number of issues needed to be verified before the matter could be taken further.

Namibian Sun understands that the reason why the Chinese company got away with mining without a lease agreement is because it kept insisting on “negotiating” the terms and conditions and never signed the contract.

A medical source who pays regular visits to the mine says the company is using illegal electricity connections and has drilled at least four boreholes without permission.

“They are mining gold and another mineral that you use in military vehicles. I do not have the name now. They transported these minerals on the back road through Klein-Aub to Walvis Bay and I can tell you they have never gone through a weighbridge,” she said.

The Chamber of Mines of Namibia has expelled the company as member for “bringing the mining industry into disrepute”, said the chamber's CEO, Veston Malango.

Namibian Sun understands that the mine did not adhere to any safety regulations of the inspector of mines.

The Observer newspaper reported in 2018 that the mine had disregarded a directive issued in 2017 to cease operations.

According to the ministry of mines executive director, Simeon Negumbo, the Swartmodder mine has a valid mining licence but its operations were suspended.

“There has not been mining for about three years at that mine, mainly due to compliance issues,” he said.

According to Negumbo his ministry conducted frequent safety inspections at the mine and the results were “unsatisfactory”.

Negumbo acknowledged that the mine had also stopped paying royalties.

“The ministry of mines has received royalty payments from the mine, but some difficulties have been experienced in receiving timeous payments from the mine,” he said.

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