SA mining to return 9,500 foreign nationals as sector wrestles with full production target

SOUTH Africa’s mining sector had given itself about three months to return all foreign national employees to the country beginning with a first batch of 9,500 – currently waiting on local government officials to sign their permits.

Roughly 10% of the South African mining sector’s 450,000 employees hailed from SADC countries, predominantly Mozambique and Lesotho, said Niks Lesufi, who is senior executive for environment, health and legacies at the council.

The first batch were mineworkers who had been asked to return by their employers, he said. It was currently unknown how many foreign nationals employed at the mines had decided to stay in South Africa when the 21-day COVID-19 lockdown was first announced on March 26.

Mining firms had suggested that the resumption of 100% of production might not be possible under any of the lockdown phases announced by the government partly owing to social distancing regulations, but also complicated by the rate at which returning workers could restart work and those that might be vulnerable to COVID-19 by co-morbidities.

Currently, some 227,000 employees had been screened and were at work – roughly half of the workforce. Under level 3 lockdown regulations, the mining sector is permitted to return to 100% of production but that may take weeks, if not longer, to materialise.

“The screening [of returning employees] will be in their home countries. Those who fail [the screening process] can’t come to the republic and will be diverted to the authorities in the labour sending areas,” said Lesufi.

South African mining companies have also agreed they will assist in the event medical care in their home countries proves to be inadequate, he said.