SA miners adjusting amid COVID-19 fight

By order of the South African government, all of the nation’s mining operations were first ordered to suspend production beginning March 24 – but with that closure period coming to an end in part, some miners have rolled out ramp-up programmes to return to operations.
SA miners adjusting amid COVID-19 fight SA miners adjusting amid COVID-19 fight SA miners adjusting amid COVID-19 fight SA miners adjusting amid COVID-19 fight SA miners adjusting amid COVID-19 fight

Implats is just one of South Africa's miners preparing to ramp up to operations after a COVID-19 lockdown

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The lockdown of mines in South Africa lasted for an initial 21 days, due to the growing threat of the global COVID-19 pandemic. On April 9, the president extended the plan for two additional weeks, leaving measures in force until April 30.

However, an April 16 amendment to the regulations and directives allowed mining operations to conduct activities at a reduced capacity - up to but not exceeding 50% during the lockdown.

Here are some key companies that have made public their plans to move forward.

Jubilee Metals

Jubilee Metals Group has restarted its Inyoni surface PGM and chrome operation, and will soon follow that with a restart of the Windsor joint venture PGM operation.

"This follows the temporary shutdown of the company's operations in South Africa in line with the 21-day nationwide lockdown…on 24 March 2020 and extended by a further 14 days to 30 April," it said.

"Staff at both operations has been reduced to include only critical staff to maintain continuous operations. The company has enforced strict health and security measures to ensure that its employees and team are adequately and appropriately protected during this period, and it continues to work closely with the South African authorities."

Jubilee's Zambian Kabwe operation also continues to operate its copper refinery, it confirmed.

Jubilee added that it is "reviewing" its options for its chrome operations, which are still on hold. Any updates to its plan, according to officials, will be in parallel with the outlines from President Ramaphosa.

Royal Bafokeng Platinum

RBPlat, after placing its operation on care and maintenance last month, said it remains "fully supportive" of the government decision. During the shutdown, it has been discussing mitigating potentials to limit economic ramifications.

"(Running at 50% capacity) will enable the company to de-risk its underground operations from large scale ‘lapse of time', induced falls of ground posing a safety risk and short to medium-term economic viability of our underground mining operations," officials said.

"This is not a decision we have taken lightly; however we believe that it is the right decision to safeguard our business and the livelihood of our employees," the company added.

It has put into place a series of protocols for the safety of its crews, including a task team to monitor, manage and control operational requirements. It also has a COVID-19 action plan, and is enforcing strict social distancing rules.

Additionally, it has set up dedicated hand sanitising points at key areas, implemented extensive training, awareness and communication programmes, and is conducting body temperature screenings along with heavy disinfection of all traffic areas manually and with ultra-violet lighting.

"At this stage it is not possible to give an accurate estimate of the financial impact that the pandemic will have on the group, as the situation remains fast-changing, but various scenarios have been analysed and appropriate measures will be taken," RBPlat said.

Impala Platinum

Implats' South African operations are also making preparations for a partial restart of operations. It has been working on internal planning since January for its "operational resilience" during the pandemic with a specific focus on the lives of stakeholders and workers.

All South African operations, including Impala Rustenburg (mining, processing and refining) and Marula (mining and concentrating) had been on care and maintenance since March 26 under the outlines of the government order, with only critical operations continuing.

"Implats' operational strategy is aimed at securing the integrity of key infrastructure and facilitating a safe start-up once operations are cleared to resume. A systematic increase in labour attendance was planned at Impala Rustenburg and Marula from April 14… in line with the permissions received from the regulator."

Additionally, following the directive from April 16, it advanced plans to manage a gradual return to mining beginning April 17. It did not disclose any specifics about ramp-up plans but did confirm it used the lockdown period to boost its safety efforts, increase stock levels of medical equipment and PPE and added more screening and testing procedures. Also, it has kept up its monitoring of skeleton crews it has kept working during the stoppage.

"All essential services employees are currently screened using questionnaires, thermo-scanning of skin temperature, and if necessary, core temperature screening, before entering their work areas," Implats officials said.

"These protocols will continue to ramp-up as employees return to work. Employees with abnormal temperatures will be isolated at dedicated areas at the operations and then transported to designated medical facilities for diagnosis and, if necessary, testing, quarantine and/or hospitalisation."