SOUTH Africa’s mining sector will go into a three week hibernation from March 26 in terms of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s dramatic lock-down announcement this evening.
Addressing the nation on the day that infections of the COVID-19 virus in South Africa increased to 402 – an increase of 128 in only 24 hours – Ramaphosa said immediate action was needed in order to avoid the country’s fragile health system from becoming overwhelmed.
He ordered all citizens to remain in their homes barring providers of identified essential services such as healthcare workers and certain retailers selling food and medicines. But the mining sector is to all but close.
Operations that need to run on a continuous basis would be effectively put on care and maintenance, he said. The ban will end at midnight on April 15 whereafter it is hoped the country will have delayed the proliferation of the COVID-19 virus, a process known as “flattening the curve”. The lockdown will begin midnight March 26.
Mining that will probably fall exempt of the lockdown is the coal mining sector. The provision of coal to Eskom, the state-owned power utility, is crucial to the generation of electricity identified as essential by Ramaphosa in terms of “the maintenance of power”.
Ramaphosa said Government would soon publish a full list of the categories of business that should remain open.
“Companies whose operations require continuous processes such as furnaces, underground mine operations will be required to make arrangements for care and maintenance to avoid damage to their continuous operations,” said Ramaphosa.
The measures would be applied in terms of the Disaster Management Act and had been sanctioned by the National Coronavirus Command Council. The National Defence Force would be deployed to support the police services in enforcing the measures.
The announcement should have been made yesterday, but Ramaphosa was locked in meetings that stretched into the evening.
Ramaphosa also unveiled a number of efforts to ease the strain on consumers and small business owners, including potential tax benefits, whilst the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) would make R3bn available for “vulnerable firms” as well as for the financial services sector.
The Oppenheimer family, whose wealth stems from the country’s long-standing diamond industry, would contribute R1bn in relief to the small business sector. It will be matched in that amount by the Rupert family which founded the famous Remgro group of companies.
Ramaphosa has delivered a host of speeches described – or anticipated – to be defining but few will match the impact of tonight’s address for its leadership.
“This is a decisive measure to save millions of South Africans from infection and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.
“While this measure will have a considerable impact on people’s livelihoods, on the life of our society and on our economy, the human cost of delaying this action would be far, far greater.”
“The action we are taking now will have lasting economic costs. But we are convinced that the cost of not acting now would be far greater.”
The price of palladium began to move north from about 6pm – and has gained about $50 per ounce at the time of writing – amid speculation that a national lockdown was on the cards. The platinum price was about 30% stronger in the last three hours on a day in which most commodities had a better day.
At R881.320 per kilogram, the rand gold price is at its highest level in more than five years. Unfortunately, there will be no production to take advantage of the price spike, but companies with hedged positions may be sucking air.