JOHANNESBURG — It was a saga that riveted South Africans: rescue workers blasting through tons of rock in a dramatic effort to save three miners who were trapped underground when they plunged into a giant sinkhole.
Despite weeks of struggle by the rescue workers, the miners were never found. And then the mine itself was closed, leaving 900 workers jobless – until a Canadian company emerged as a “white knight” to invest in the gold mine and restore it to operation.
But today the planned $11.3-million (U.S.) investment has fallen apart in a storm of recriminations, and the Vancouver-based company is facing an onslaught of criticism from South African trade unions and the mine owner.
The investor, AfroCan Resources Gold Ltd., says it is the victim of unreasonable demands and political tensions in a local election season. But its critics accuse it of deceptive behaviour and the attempted exploitation of “cheap labour” at the gold mine.
One of the key issues is whether AfroCan should pay for the estimated $11-million cost of recovering the bodies of the trapped miners, before resuming production at the Lily gold mine. South Africa’s mining minister says it should. The company’s president, Brian Barrett, says the demand is “insane.”
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