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Comments on mining sector lockdown amendments


We respond to the amendments to Lockdown regulations relating to the mining sector

On 14 April 2020, CALS and a group of other organisations and social movements addressed an open letter to the President and the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy seeking specific undertakings relating to protective measures against the coronavirus in mining affected communities. 

Two days later, on 16 April, the Minister announced amendments to the regulations currently in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Amongst other things, the amendments state that mining operations (currently restricted to gold, gold refinery, coal and ‘essential mining’) are to be conducted at a reduced capacity of up to 50% during the period of lockdown and “thereafter of increasing capacity as determined by directions” issued by the Minister.

The conditions applying to reopening mines are quoted here in full:

“(a) A rigorous screening and testing programme must be implemented as employees return to work;

(b) The mining industry must provide quarantine facilities for employees who have tested positive for the COVID-19;

(c) Data collected during the screening and testing programme must be submitted to the relevant authority;

(d) Mining companies must make arrangements to transport their South African employees from their homes to their respective areas of operations;

(e) Workers from neighbouring Southern African Development Community countries must be recalled to their place of employment at the end of lockdown in their respective countries in accordance with these Regulations and regulations applicable in those countries;

(3) The monitoring and impact assessment of seismicity through the Council for Geoscience must be intensified with immediate effect.”

We are heartened to see that the Minister has taken on the suggestions relating to addressing (though not in detail) obligations around testing and screening, providing quarantine facilities and transport for South Africa-based employees returning to the mines. We do, however, still have a number of concerns.

Firstly, the definition of what constitutes ‘essential mining’ has not been addressed in the amendments, and instead mining will be progressively ramped up without clear justification (at least for the lockdown period). Secondly, it is not clear whether mines and health facilities in the area have adequate resources to undertake comprehensive screening and testing.

Thirdly, with regards to transportation of workers, it is not clear what this would look like (for example, whether the mine employees would have access to private or public transport). Furthermore, with regards to employees from neighbouring countries, it is not clear if mining companies will make transport arrangements when the lockdowns in those countries have eased or whether employees not based in South Africa will have to make their own plans.  

Finally, we remain deeply concerned by the fact that the Minister did not make specific reference to consultation and regular information-sharing on incidence or prevalence of the virus in mining affected communities or make provisions for protection measures for workers or community members. Indeed, there is no reference to specific measures to ensure communities are protected, whether pertaining to PPE, testing and quarantine, or food supply and so forth. To this end, we propose that mines be requested to establish and make available their health and safety policies or code of practices in line with the Mine Health and Safety Act No. 29 of 1996 and Regulations which detail their comprehensive plans and measures they have put in place.