April 17, 2020 / 12:52 PM / 3 months ago

South Africa's Implats plans gradual return to operation after regulations eased

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Impala Platinum’s (Implats) chief executive of its Rustenburg operations appeared in court on Friday on charges of allegedly contravening South Africa’s lockdown rules by calling non-essential workers back to work, the company spokesman said.

The platinum miner said it had been in consultations, through the Minerals Council, with the mines ministry to bring some non-essential workers gradually back to work under agreed precautionary measures to ensure the integrity of its mines was not compromised.

But the returning employees were stopped by police en route to the operations and a case was laid against Mark Munroe, who appeared in the Bafokeng Magistrate’s Court on Friday, spokesman Johan Theron said.

“There is clearly a difference in interpretation in the regulation with the police on one side and the DMRE (Department of Mineral Resources and Energy) and the mining industry on the other side,” Theron told Reuters.

Munroe posted bail and is expected to appear in court at a future date, Theron said.

The North West provincial police spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The DMRE had not yet responded to a request for comment.

South Africa imposed a nationwide lockdown that started on March 27 and has been extended until the end of April. It had ordered most underground mines and furnaces to be put on care and maintenance, apart from coal mines supplying state power utility Eskom.

However the government on Thursday relaxed those regulations to allow mines to operate at up to 50% capacity for the remainder of the lockdown, highlighting concerns over potential instability if some deep-level mines were closed for an extended period.

Implats said in a statement earlier on Friday that it would gradually return to work whilst taking precautionary measures to protect employees.

London-listed Jubilee Metals also said on Friday its Inyoni surface platinum group metals (PGM) and chrome operation had recommenced production while its Windsor joint venture planned to restart shortly.

South Africa is the world’s biggest producer of chrome ore, accounts for around 70% of global mined platinum supply, and is a major producer of other minerals and metals.

The lockdown hit global commodities markets since several local miners have cut production plans or declared force majeure, which exonerates them from contractual obligations.

Implats said its Canadian mining operations, which were previously allowed to operate, were placed into care and maintenance on Monday after seven coronavirus cases were confirmed at its Lac des Iles mine over the past week.

“Management continues to collaborate with the health authorities and operations will resume when it is safe to do so,” Implats said.

Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Chizu Nomiyama

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