We’ve reached a point in the national lockdown where, as the proposed end date draws nearer, there’s a lot of speculation about whether or not it will be extended.
The president is facing a difficult decision at this juncture. If lockdown extends for the foreseeable future, we could be looking at an economic crisis that will be difficult to come back from.
The fallout could amount to an increase in poverty and unprecedented rates of unemployment in a country where these rates are already high.
On the other hand, as President Ramaphosa has pointed out many times, the lives of South Africans are more important than anything else that we might face once the pandemic is contained.
It’s a tough one, with myriad checks and balances, and I don’t envy him.
While the outcome of meetings that will be held to determine the current status of COVID-19, and the best plan moving forward will take place over the next few days, one sector looks like it will be back to business as of the lockdown ending.
The Daily Maverick spoke to an anonymous source who was party to discussions between Mineral and Energy Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe (below) and the unions to plot a way to get the mining sector up and running again.
“Minerals Council and the department and unions have agreed that mine workers must go back on the 16th and 17th of April.”
“When they come back to work parties have agreed that intensive screening must be done and those who are found to be infected must be isolated and those who are sick must be sent to hospital. The industry has agreed to make its hospitals available and 60% to 70% of the workforce is expected to go back to work,” said the source.
Miners will be paid for the 21 days of lockdown, while companies that cannot afford to do so, will be able to approach the Department of Labour for UIF benefits.
Mantashe hasn’t released a statement about the mining sector’s response to the pandemic, but he appears to be taking a proactive stance on the issue.
Reports have also revealed that mining unions Numsa and Amcu were not present at the alleged meeting with Mantashe.
Amcu said in a statement that it wanted national Covid-19 regulations gazetted by the government for the mining and energy sector, and that it had tabled these demands in a letter to the minister.
“As Amcu, we will not support any ramp-up of operations at mines before these regulations are agreed upon and gazetted accordingly. We can simply not afford to let mineworkers die due to a lacking and uncoordinated approach to this pandemic by the individual mines”, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa was quoted as saying. AMCU’s buy-in will be crucial to a smooth restarting of the sector.
Some mines, such as the coal mines that support Eskom, have continued operating at reduced capacity during the lockdown.
Mining is an industry that makes up roughly 8% of South Africa’s GDP and employs close to 450 000 workers.
We’ll have to wait to see how this plays out in the coming days.
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