S. Africa mining firms work together against COVID-19 as mines reopen

JOHANNESBURG, April 28 (Reuters) - South African mining companies are setting up shared quarantine facilities for miners testing positive for COVID-19 and are discussing other ways to cooperate, as the vital national industry gradually restarts operations halted since late March.

President Cyril Ramaphosa agreed last week to partially ease a national lockdown that temporarily shut all mines, except for some production of coal, the main fuel used for power generation in Africa’s most industrialised nation.

All mines can resume activities from May 1 under regulations to ease the lockdown, gradually resuming work in an industry that accounts for 8% of South Africa’s economic output and employs about 500,000 people.

The new rules allow coal mines and open cast mines, also known as open pit mines, to resume full operations, while underground mines can only operate at 50% capacity to make it easier to maintain social distancing, the Minerals Council said.

Sibanye Stillwater, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Gold Fields have already turned to social media, radio stations and newspapers to offer guidance to employees on how to prevent the coronavirus spreading.

Sibanye said it was converting some of its worker hostels in Westrand, the Free State and Rustenburg into quarantine facilities and would make them available to employees of other companies who had been diagnosed with the virus.

“We are partnering with AngloGold and Harmony to share hostel facilities,” James Wellsted, Sibanye’s senior vice president of investor relations, told an online media briefing.

The briefing was organised by the Minerals Council of South Africa, a group representing the country’s top mining firms.

AngloGold Ashanti’s group health vice president, Bafedile Chauke, said mining firms were discussing other ways to work with each other to ensure the health and safety of employees returning to work.

AngloGold is already partnering with petrochemicals major Sasol to increase production of sanitisers and has offered to share the cost of manufacturing bulk storage tanks for sanitiser. (Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Edmund Blair)