Harmony forecasts mines up and running fully only in August as migrant returns proving slow

Peter Steenkamp, CEO, Harmony Gold

HARMONY Gold might not restore full mining at its South African operations until August as the return of migrant workers to the country was taking longer than anticipated.

“We have 7,000 migrant workers that have to return. We think we have got all the approvals in place, but that (full return of workers) won’t be until the middle of July,” said Peter Steenkamp, CEO of Harmony Gold in an interview.

Harmony said in an update on June 11 that the company hoped to restore near full gold production by the middle of month, but a fully functioning mine – which included artisanal skills such as construction – would not be until later.

“We are only getting about 300 people per day through the border post. We are confident in our gold production numbers but the mines will not be synchronised,” he said. Harmony  forecast adjusted full year production guidance of 1.4 million ounces for its 2020 financial year which ends on June 30.

Migrant gold mine workers who went home during South Africa’s 21-day lockdown in March have been prevented from returning as borders have been closed in the wake of the COVID-19 related lockdowns.

The Minerals Council said earlier this month that the return of about 9,500 foreign mineworkers would only begin from June 15 owing to delays re-opening borders with neighbouring countries. Roughly 10% of the South African mining sector’s 450,000 employees hailed from SADC countries, predominantly Mozambique and Lesotho.

The effort was described by Graham Herbert, MD of consultancy TEBA, as “the biggest movement of labour” in the gold and platinum sectors.

“I have worked in the industry for 30 years and I have not seen anything like this,” Herbert told Bloomberg News for an article republished by Fin24. “This is a historical first for me. This is probably the biggest movement of labour, certainly in gold and platinum mining, that’s been known,” he said.

TEBA is assisting the Minerals Council with the logistics of bringing back mineworkers to South Africa.