JOHANNESBURG – Impala Platinum (Implats) has warned that the prevalence of Covid-19 in communities surrounding its Marula mine in Limpopo is higher than it previously expected as it confirmed that 19 cases of the virus were detected at and around the mine.
Impala, one of the world’s biggest platinum producers, which operates mines in South Africa and Zimbabwe, said on Saturday that a cluster of positive Covid-19 cases had been detected at and around Marula following comprehensive screening, testing and tracing protocols.
“Significantly, 17 of the confirmed cases reside locally, suggesting the prevalence of Covid-19 among local communities is far higher than the company’s initial estimates had indicated,” said the company.
Impala said the cases included 14 employees who were returning to work, although none of these employees had started work at the mine. It said that a local health provider and four mine-employed health providers working at the mine clinic also tested positive for the pandemic.
The company said it had temporarily halted operations at Marula.
“Marula will not recall workers due to report for duty next week, to enable it to first complete all relevant health and safety protocols, including verifying test results, sanitising identified high-risk areas, conducting further contact tracing and testing procedures as required, and placing people in isolation and quarantine based on the outcome of the screening and testing results,” said the company.
Mining operations have resumed at 50 percent capacity during the lockdown, with some mines allowed to scale up to full employment over time.
However, concerns were raised about the health of vulnerable employees with pre-existing conditions, including silicosis and TB.
The Labour Court earlier this month ruled that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy should set health and safety standards to protect employees from the pandemic in the form of a national Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, the biggest union in the platinum belt, approached the court order for an urgent application to compel Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe is set to issue binding regulations to protect mineworkers from Covid-19. The SOP contains specific minimum standards to which all mines must adhere to when managing the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mantashe is expected to issue the SOP today.
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said the union was aware that 13 mineworkers had tested positive for Covid-19 at Marula mine.
“This is shocking and disturbing. Mineworkers’ lives are sacrificed for profits by these mining companies,” he said, adding that NUM in the North East Region had consistently warned the department that most of the mines in Limpopo were not adhering to the Covid-19 regulations.
“The regulatory department inspectors must take responsibility of this calamity that is happening in Limpopo. They dismally failed to do their job. This mine must be closed for an indefinite period for proper investigation to be done,” Mammburu said.
By Dineo Faku