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Mining communities head to court for protection from COVID-19

- Lee-Anne Bruce

Community network MACUA, represented by CALS, is applying to intervene as a friend of the court in AMCU's urgent Labour Court application

On Wednesday 29 April, the Labour Court will hear an urgent application brought by mining union AMCU which calls for detailed regulations to be put in place to ensure mine workers will be properly protected from the novel coronavirus. Community network MACUA, represented by CALS, is applying to intervene in the matter as a friend of the court to highlight the vulnerability of mining affected communities during this pandemic, and ensure they have a say in the regulations impacting them.  

Over a month ago, regulations were put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in our country by enforcing a strict lockdown – including in the mining industry, which was restricted to only essential operations. Concerned, however, about the lack of clear measures to protect mine workers and affected communities, community networks and other civil society groups wrote an open letter to the President and the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy.

The Minister responded positively by issuing updated regulations ordering that a screening and testing programme must be put in place for workers, and that mining companies must make arrangements to transport their employees to work, as well as quarantine those who test positive for the virus. These new Regulations do not, however, go far enough to ensure workers are protected and make no reference to, for example, the need for personal protective equipment and medical facilities.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has therefore launched an urgent application in the Labour Court calling for the Minister to ensure that mine workers are properly protected in line with the Mine Health and Safety Act. One of South Africa’s largest community networks is applying to intervene in the matter as a friend of the court. Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA), represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), intends to argue that these protections should be extended to affected communities and be developed in consultation with them.

“Mine workers are not separate from communities – they are part of us,” says Meshack Mbangula, National Co-ordinator of MACUA. “What happens when they come back home? They don’t leave the threat of the virus behind at work. We are already at risk because most people in rural communities don’t have proper access to water and some have lung issues from the air pollution that comes with mining.”

“Mining can’t take place without mine workers or the communities that host and support them,” says Akhona Mehlo, attorney at CALS. “Mines have a duty not only to their workers, but to the public. The Mine Health and Safety Act recognises that. It not only mandates mines provide a safe environment for their employees, but also includes measures that must be considered for non-employees.” 

The urgent application will be heard by the Labour Court either electronically over Zoom or a similar platform, or in court under strictly controlled conditions on 29 April 2020 from 10:00. Read our founding affidavit here and our heads of argument here

Read the court's order here and judgment in the matter here