‘Crazy times’ as mining industry copes with lockdown
Publish date: 25 March 2020
Issue Number: 328
Diary: Legalbrief Workplace
SA’s mining industry, employing 450 000 people, is one of the industries that will be most impacted by the lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night, writes Legalbrief. Mines in SA, the source of most of the world’s platinum group metals (PGMs), chrome and manganese, will shut for three weeks as the country goes into a lockdown to stem the infection rate from the Covid-19 virus. ‘Companies whose operations require continuous processes such as furnaces and underground mine operations, will be required to make arrangements for care and maintenance to avoid damage to their continuous operations,’ Ramaphosa is quoted in Business Day as saying. Roger Baxter, CEO of the Minerals Council SA, whose members account for 90% of the country's mineral production, said the speech was being ‘digested’. SA’s companies have attempted to keep their labour-intensive mines open, sending tens of thousands of people underground daily while facing reduced productivity and higher costs to keep their workers safe. ‘It’s crazy times,’ said one executive, pointing out there was enough time to put mines onto care and maintenance. But another executive said the logistics of sending tens of thousands of miners back home was a nightmare.
The move provides a stark reminder of the severity of the developing health crisis in a nation whose economy was built on gold mining. ‘This would be unprecedented in the history of mining in SA,’ Baxter is quoted in Mining Weekly as saying. ‘There were certain times when components of the industry were closed, for example during the Second World War, but this is unprecedented.’ Sibanye Stillwater, the world’s top platinum producer, is weighing the President’s directive, said spokesperson James Wellsted. The report said spokespeople for Impala Platinum Holdings, and Anglo American Platinum, couldn’t immediately comment.
SA’s mines have continued working to date and none have so far reported any confirmed case of Covid-19. A report on the African Mining Market site says all companies enforce stringent health and safety measures to prevent an outbreak and transmission of the disease which could potentially spread like wildfire in the cramped conditions where employees are crammed into large steel boxes and dropped kilometres underground into confined workspaces. ‘Obviously we’re still in the early stages of Covid-19, but it’s already clear that if we don’t get a firm handle on it soon the impact on us, the industry and global economy will be catastrophic,’ said Impala spokesperson Johan Theron.
The DRC has imposed a two-day lockdown in Haut-Katanga, an area rich in copper and cobalt, after two people tested positive for the coronavirus, provincial governor Jacques Kyabula Katwe is quoted in Mining Weekly as saying. He said the boundaries of the southeastern province, whose capital was the mining hub of Lubumbashi, would also be closed. Ivanhoe, MMG, and Chemaf are among the mining companies with concessions there. From Monday, only the military, police, medical staff and authorised civil servants would be allowed to travel round the province, he said. Otherwise, transport from trucks to bicycles and barges has been halted.
Glencore's Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) mine, a copper and cobalt project in the DRC, repatriated 26 foreign workers in response to the country's coronavirus outbreak, Mining Weekly report. Charles Kumbi, a regional programme director with the IndustriALL union, which has an affiliate at KCC, said the workers had been sent home on technical leave but would resume work once the situation got back to normal.