COVID-19 will continue to hamper mining production in South Africa over the coming quarters despite the sector being able to operate at full capacity, as the number of active cases within the sector remains on the rise, research firm Fitch Solutions said.
The firm, which is a subsidiary of the Fitch Group, said in a research report that platinum leads South African metals in terms of the most cases and deaths by commodities, representing 53.4% of total mining Coronavirus cases.
“In 2020, we forecast South Africa’s mining sector value to contract by 11.9% in 2020, driven by declining production output and lower-trending commodity prices. South Africa and its mining industry have been hit especially hard by the virus, recording 2 554 active cases and 50 deaths as of July 21,” Fitch said.
“In fact, at the time of writing, the spread of the virus is accelerating, posing downside risks to our mining forecasts in the event that the government re-tightens rules on mining operations.” South Africa’s mining sector is particularly exposed to the spread of COVID-19.
According to the Minerals Council of South Africa, the industry employs a workforce numbering almost 420 000, many of whom are underground on any given day. The council, former known as the Chamber of Mines, has published a 10-point action plan for COVID-19, which outlines several measures to deal with COVID-19 in the sector.
Shabir Ahmed, industry adviser for mining at SAP Africa, said it does not take an epidemiologist to realise that the mining work environment is a catalyst for spreading the COVID-19 virus. “In South Africa, this is exacerbated by the fact that the mining labour force remains migrant, with constant movement between the gold fields and platinum belt and Lesotho, Mozambique and the Eastern Cape. In addition, the average age in the industry’s workforce is over 40, increasing their vulnerability to an illness that poses a greater risk the older the infected person is,” Ahmed said.
The select committee on land reform, environment, mineral resources and energy last week expressed concern about the safety of women in mining and questioned how this issue is being addressed.