Mines in South Africa look for ways to collaborate for safe restart of mining

April 28, 2020

As the mining industry in South Africa plots a course to return to production some companies are setting up shared quarantine facilities for miners testing positive for COVID-19 and are discussing other ways to cooperate.

Reuters reported that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa agreed to partially ease a national lockdown that temporarily shut all mines, except for some production of coal, the main fuel used for power generation in Africa’s most industrialized nation.

All mines can resume activities from May 1 under regulations to ease the lockdown, gradually resuming work in an industry that accounts for 8 percent of South Africa’s economic output and employs about 500,000 people.

However, the return to work has not been welcomed by all. South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which represents more than 250,000 miners has voiced opposition to the plan citing fears that its members will not have adequate protection and will not be able to follow social distancing guidelines.

AMCU filed legal action last week to demand national safety standards for mines, including nationwide sanitization procedures and a minimum standard for protective gear, potentially raising costs for companies.

A ruling is expected soon after an April 29 hearing.

Mines in Peru are facing a similar backlash from unions representing workers there.

South Africa’s mining industry accounts for 8 percent of its economic output and employs about 500,000 people.

The new rules in South Africa allow coal mines and openpit mines to resume full operations, while underground mines can only operate at 50 percent capacity to make it easier to maintain social distancing, the Minerals Council said.

Sibanye Stillwater, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Gold Fields have already turned to social media, radio stations and newspapers to offer guidance to employees on how to prevent the coronavirus spreading.

Sibanye said it was converting some of its worker hostels in Westrand, the Free State and Rustenburg into quarantine facilities and would make them available to employees of other companies who had been diagnosed with the virus.

“We are partnering with AngloGold and Harmony to share hostel facilities,” James Wellsted, Sibanye’s senior vice president of investor relations, told an online media briefing.

The briefing was organized by the Minerals Council of South Africa, a group representing the country’s top mining firms.

AngloGold Ashanti’s group health vice president, Bafedile Chauke, said mining firms were discussing other ways to work with each other to ensure the health and safety of employees returning to work.

AngloGold is already partnering with petrochemicals major Sasol to increase production of sanitizers and has offered to share the cost of manufacturing bulk storage tanks for sanitizer.

 

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