With South Africa beginning phase 2 of the national lockdown due to end on 30 April 2020, mining companies received positive feedback from the Minister for the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (the "Minister") on 16 April 2020 regarding their operations. In a briefing to members of the public, the Minister recognised that if mines were left alone for a long time, then (i) the stability of the ground at those mines would get tampered with, (ii) gasses would accumulate and (iii) the mines could be confronted with disasters like methane gas and other gasses or prevalence of seismicity and rock fall. Consequently, a phased recall of workers to work in the mines and a ramp up of production in the mines is being implemented. According to the Minister, this would minimize the risk of accidents and disasters and sustain the infrastructure of production at the mines.
In light of the Minister’s comments, the Minister for the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs published amendments to the regulations issued in terms of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002 ("DMA") ("Amendment Regulations"). The Amendment Regulations recognize mining as an ‘essential service’ and permit mining operations to be conducted during the extended lockdown period at a reduced capacity of not more than 50% until 30 April 2020. The position beyond 30 April 2020 remains unclear at this stage. According to the Amendment Regulations, after the lockdown period, it will be up to the Minister to determine how mines ramp up production beyond 50% capacity.
Prior to the Amendment Regulations, only mines supplying coal to Eskom were permitted to remain in operation at reduced production levels and mines involved in the production of gold, chrome, manganese and other sectors were to be scaled down, while the processing of surface material in the platinum group metals (PGM) sector was to continue for the production of, among others, medical products. Any other mine to which the above did not apply was to be placed under care and maintenance.
The resumption and increase of capacity at mines pursuant to the Amendment Regulations is subject to mines complying with the following conditions:
- a rigorous screening and testing program must be implemented as employees return to work;
- the mining industry must provide quarantine facilities for employees who have tested positive for COVID-19;
- data collected during the screening and testing programmes must be submitted to the relevant authority;
- mining companies must make arrangements to transport their employees from their homes to their respective areas of operations;
- in the event that they are not currently in South Africa, workers from neighboring Southern African Development Community Countries must only be recalled to their place of employment at the end of the lockdown in accordance with the DMA and the rules applicable in their countries.
The Council for Geoscience is, in terms of the Amendment Regulations, required to intensify monitoring and impact assessment of seismicity with immediate effect.
In order to ensure the continuous supply of energy and petroleum products, the Amendment Regulations provide that collieries that supply Eskom are required to continue to operate at full capacity and refineries are required to operate at full capacity to avoid a shortage of fuel. Such operations must include smelters, plants and furnaces.
A further update will follow as and when there are any further amendments to the current directives and regulations.