Finweek English|7 May 2020
The government’s plan is logical on paper: Get the mining sector operating again and a substantial part of the secondary and tertiary sectors that supply it will also be kicked into motion.
It makes perfect sense given the centrality of the resources sector to the economy as an employer, taxpayer, and earner of foreign exchange. According to data supplied by the Minerals Council South Africa’s chief economist, Henk Langenhoven, SA’s mining industry spent R22.6bn in 2018 procuring goods and services that included items such as R1.8bn worth of wholesale and retail goods, catering and accommodation.
In practice, however, the government’s plan to gradually emerge from the five-week lockdown is proving complex, and fraught. Miscommunication, poorly framed amendments to lockdown regulations, and the sheer trickiness of marshalling roughly half of the 450 000 people the industry employs back to work – the government has targeted 50% mining production by 30 April – is proving a logistical tribulation.
Firstly, the amended lockdown regulations as per government’s 16 April announcement on the extended lockdown confused almost everyone in the mining sector.
“What does that mean, people or tonnes?” asked Richard Spoor, an attorney who represents the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), of government’s 50% production target.
Spoor also asked minister of energy and mineral resources, Gwede Mantashe, to couch additional guidelines in terms of the Mine and Health Amendment Act. That’s because miners face Covid-19 breakouts once operations restart. The last thing the sector needs is nebulous and ad-hoc direction.
It’s true that mining companies are extensively equipped, and have experience, in dealing with disease as evidenced in the sector’s rollout of HIV/Aids treatment, as well as screening and testing for tuberculosis. More recently, the sector set down plans to tackle the compensation of silicosis sufferers who contracted the disease on the mines.
But Covid-19 is calling for a level of organisation that is particularly burdensome to the chain of mining industry logistics. Screening and then testing of employees before entering the ‘cages’ intended to take them underground might only be a process of a few seconds per miner, but in a shift of hundreds it could result in significantly longer lead times.
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7 May 2020