First batch of 698 foreign mineworkers return to SA, but border bottlenecks persist

FOREIGN mineworkers are eventually making their way through neighbouring country border posts back to South Africa, said Niks Lesufi, senior executive for safety and health at the Minerals Council.

Lesufi said today in a council update that 698 mineworkers had returned out of some 1,150 planned for the day. “The first groups have started returning following lengthy discussions,” he said. “Border posts could only manage 698.”

The balance of migrant mineworkers who returned to the home countries during South Africa’s five-week hard lockdown in March – identified as some 12,500 employees – would be accompanied back to South Africa through border posts again today and then every second day. The third batch would return to South Africa on Monday.

Of those who have returned, 217 were from Mozambique; 295 from Lesotho and 186 from Eswatini. The workers were transported by buses and taxis that operated at a 70% occupancy rate in terms of social distancing rules.

Commenting on those initially brought back to South Africa, Lesufi said that border posts had run into technical challenges having recently upgraded software that required retraining of home countries’ respective immigration officials.

Another sticking point was that police services were assisting in the transportation of mineworkers. Lesufi said that negotiations with Natjoints – the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure – for the South African mining industry to use its own services  would speed up the process to about two weeks.

At the moment, the council’s 10-day plan to return all the mineworkers would take double the amount of time. South Africa’s mining sector directly employs about 425,325 people.

South African mining companies, especially gold producers where many of the migrant workforce are employed, have not been able to entirely resume 100% production in terms of support services required owing to delays in returning migrant workers.

In terms of COVID-19 infections, the total number so far is 3,519 cases of which 1,963 have recovered. There have been 28 deaths in the sector.