Optimum files papers in bid to force Bank of Baroda to continue business

Miners shut down operations at the Mpumalanga mine on Wednesday.

The COO of Optimum coal mine, George van der Merwe, responds to workers' concerns over salary payments on 22 February 2018. Picture: Pelane Phakgadi/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Optimum Coal Mine’s COO George van der Merwe has addressed frustrated workers at the Gupta-owned mine, telling them that legal processes are underway to keep bank accounts open.

Miners shut down operations at the Mpumalanga mine on Wednesday. They’re demanding clarity on whether they'll be receiving their salaries this month.

Van der Merwe says Optimum has now filed papers to force the outgoing Bank of Baroda to continue doing business with the firm.

The Indian-based bank has made headlines for being the last financial institution to hold Gupta bank accounts.

The country’s main commercial banks have cut all ties with the Guptas, citing reputational risk.

However, former president Jacob Zuma and the Guptas have consistently denied any wrong-doing.

Last week the Hawks declared Ajay Gupta, one of the three Gupta brothers accused of corrupt links to Zuma, a “fugitive from justice”.

Gupta’s lawyer and the Hawks had an agreement that he would hand himself in, in relation to an ongoing investigation over the Estina Dairy Farm in Vrede, in the Free State.

The Gupta brother was due to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court and he failed to do so.

Meanwhile, his brother Atul is challenging a preservation order valued at R10 million.

WATCH: Workers demand clarity on Optimum Mine's future

‘BRACE FOR RADICAL DEMONSTRATION’

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has threatened to intensify its protest at the Optimum coal mine in Hendrina if the mine fails to pay employees by midnight.

The mine's COO has told workers, who demonstrated outside the mine, that he is not sure if they will be paid on Friday.

“Bank of Baroda delays changing these dollars into rand so that I can get local currencies to pay.”

Workers have since dispersed, warning that they will return on Friday.

NUM branch chair Goodwill Mthombeni says the mine should brace itself for a more radical demonstration.

“People are being provoked now following the response by the COO. We believe what will happen tomorrow will be more than what has happened before.”

Additional reporting by Reuters.

(Edited by Shimoney Regter)