(First published in Norwegian 25 Oct 2005)
By Erik Hagen
It is no great feat for burglars to get into the partly Norwegian-owned Sheba mine in northern South Africa. The thieves often come in groups, at night, through old, unsecured mine entrances. From there they make their way down to the company’s rich gold deposits.
In at least two cases thieves have been shot by the security people who guard the mine, of which Crew Gold Corporation is part owner. So far no one has been convicted in the killings, and the South African company that manages the mine, Barberton Mines, is not being investigated.
Shot in the testicles
In October 2004 a group of 10 unemployed mine workers sneaked into the mine. The security company shot and killed one of them, and another was shot in the testicles. The last eight were caught by the police, charged with burglary, and given prison sentences.
No one has so far been convicted of killing the burglar.
A similar episode occurred in 2003. The police officer in charge of the investigation in Barberton wishes to remain anonymous out of consideration for his own security but has informed Norwatch that still, 2 years later, no charge has been issued in the case. He further informed us that none of the dead man’s friends – whom the police believe accompanied him down the mine – wish to testify, probably out of fear of being charged with burglary.
The gold thief was shot right through the head, and since the bullet still remains in the mine gallery underneath the mountain, it has not been possible, by means of ballistic testing, to determine whether the weapon believed by the police to have been used actually is the murder weapon.
As a result, it seems as if both the security company and the mining company escape being charged with the killings. The investigating officer has informed Norwatch that both killings are still “under investigation” and that the security guards in both cases had probably shot in self-defence.
According to the assistant chief of police, the mining company is doing “its utmost to protect its income”.
“If a burglar wants to get into your house, he will manage to do so”. Such cases will always exist; it is impossible to prevent them, he claimed.
There is consequently little to indicate that the mining company will ever be found responsible. Neither the police nor the prosecuting authorities in Barberton believe that an indictment will be preferred against Barberton Mines for the killings. Currently, there is no investigation into what the mining company has done to prevent thieves from getting into the mines or to prevent the hired security company from shooting and killing.
“If they are to are to be held responsible, it will have to be by means of civil action”, Elize van Rooyen, State Prosecutor, informed Norwatch.
Different in Norway
Barberton Mines and the Norwegian part owners of Crew can probably count themselves lucky that the killings did not occur in Norway.
Ståle Eskeland, professor of public law at the University of Oslo, has told Norwatch that in Norway a mining company can be held wholly responsible for any criminal action committed by a hired security company. “If they have not secured themselves against this type of action, then it is in my opinion clear that the company can also be convicted”, according to Eskeland.
Eskeland emphasised that it is not required to show intent on the part of the company; it is sufficient to show negligence. He added that such cases could have led to punishment in Norway, but only if the management had understood the risk that burglary could lead to killing, and they must have neglected to take the necessary measures to prevent the burglaries from happening
The city of Barberton was founded at the end of the 1800s at the foot of a high ridge in the northernmost part of South Africa. When the gold finds became known, thousands of Britons and Boers rushed to Barberton to take part in the adventure. Since then gold miners have blasted out many kilometres of galleries inside the mountain. Today a total of 400 openings lead into the Sheba mine’s intricate system of galleries.
Today the mine provides the mining company with great challenges, since, with 400 openings, it is easy for trespassers to walk right in. The company estimates that at one point last year there were 250 thieves inside the mine simultaneously. Now a few of the most popular mine entrances have been sealed. But that does not prevent the problem from continuing. At regular intervals groups of thieves still get into the mines.
Just 2 weeks before Norwatch visited Barberton it happened again. A burglar cut his way into a ventilation channel, but while he lowered himself down the duct, the rope snapped. He fell 50 metres straight down the shaft and died.
In September 2005 the price of gold rose to its highest level in 17 years and is now approaching € 11,700/kg.
The company’s general manager, Tony de Beer, estimates that the amount lost to burglary in 2004 may have been approximately 30 kg, almost equalling the company’s own production. 2005 he assumes that the loss will be about 10 kg. He told Norwatch that the company does its utmost to prevent trespassers from getting down into the mines.
“This has cost us lots of energy and money. We lost a lot of production time on this last year. It cost me at least a million rands (€ 112,000) ed. note] to put up walls and gates”, he said.
Barberton Mines has also hired a company to patrol and spend the night up in the mountains, to prevent thieves from discovering the entrances to the mine. “They were trained in what you might call guerrilla warfare in Namibia”, de Beer told Norwatch. “There are no guerrilla wars there any more, and these men were unemployed”, he explained.
Norwatch did not succeed in obtaining a comment from the Norwegian part owners of Crew before this was printed.
- Two deaths have occurred in the Sheba mine in South Africa. No investigation of the mining company has been initiated.
- The company Barberton Mines – and their mines – is partly owned by the Oslo registered company Crew Gold Corporation.
- Crew owns 20 percent of the company, but it is rumoured in Barberton that the Norwegians plan to buy further into the company. If these rumours are true, Crew will end up with almost half the shares.
- Crew also has projects on Greenland, in Ghana, and in the Philippines.