Mines aim to return to full production capacity during level 3
JOHANNESBURG – The Minerals Council South Africa said on Friday that the mining industry was working with the government to get mineworkers from neighbouring countries back to work as the national lockdown eases to level 3 from tomorrow.
Senior executive for environment, health and legacies Nikisi Lesufi said the council was working with the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure to facilitate the return of nearly 10 000 employees from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
“We have a list of 9 500 workers from neighbouring countries that are supposed to have come back from Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland (Eswatini) and Zimbabwe. We are submitting all the details of the transport logistics, and quarantine facilities. The list is to be finalised tomorrow,” Lesufi said.
Thuthula Balfour, the council’s head of health, said 384 mineworkers had tested positive for coronavirs (Covid-19). Balfour said 216 of the affected miners worked in the gold sector. “We have ended up with more infections in gold because of outbreaks,” Balfour said.
The government announced that all deep mining operations were expected to ramp-up to full capacity under level 3 of the lockdown, bringing the mining industry to full capacity of production. However, Gold Fields spokesperson Sven Lunsche said that reaching 100 percent capacity and bringing back 100 percent of employees would be challenging.
Lunsche said bringing back the SADC nationals who constitute 10 percent to 15 percent of the industry’s workforce would not be easy. He said the industry would take time to reach maximum production as returning employees needed to get tested before entering the mining premises.
“That alone will take a couple of weeks before we are at full capacity again,” Lunsche said. “I suspect it is going to be a month before we reach full capacity from June 1, and it might even be later than that.”
Gold Fields operates the South Deep mine in Westonaria which has managed to ramp its operations up to 50 percent after being in care and maintenance for three weeks from the start of the lockdown up to April 18. The mine had one returning employee testing positive for Covid19. Sibanye-Stillwater spokesperson James Wellsted said the company had not yet recalled all employees.
“We have a situation where we have migrant-sending provinces like the Eastern Cape. So far we have not called back employees from those labour sending areas. “We have to strike a balance by saying do we bring our people to work immediately or do we have a slower approach to the return of employees,” Wellsted said.
Council chief executive Roger Baxter said some coal mines were already operating at 90 percent capacity because they were able to operate for the duration of the lockdown. Baxter said collieries that supply Eskom and oil refineries were allowed to operate at full capacity under level 5 of the lockdown.
He said this was extended to open cast mines under level 4.
“We must also recognise that for some operations on the coal side we are limited to the availability of transport. However it (the ability to reach full capacity) is going to be different from commodity to commodity,” said Baxter.