Three-quarters of foreign mineworkers returned to SA mines despite border closures

AN estimated 8,500 foreign mineworkers had returned to South Africa, equal to three-quarters of some 11,482 thought to have gone home during the Covid-19 hard lockdown imposed by the South African government in March.

There had been significant improvements in terms of getting miners through border posts, said Niks Lesufi, senior executive for health and environment at the Minerals Council in a briefing today.

Of employees still to be returned to South Africa, the majority were in Lesotho followed by Mozambique, Eswatini and a handful from Botswana.

In June, Graham Herbert, MD of consultancy TEBA, described the return of foreign mineworkers to South Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic as “… the biggest movement of labour” in the gold and platinum sectors.

According to the Minerals Council’s plan most of the workers were supposed to be returned today “… so there will be mop up operations over the next seven days,” said Lesufi. “The only thing holding back the remainder is companies need to free up quarantine so they can be replaced with foreign mineworkers waiting to return,” he said.

South Africa’s gold mining firms have traditionally relied on foreign mineworkers with Harmony Gold and Sibanye-Stillwater among those affected during the current pandemic. Mineworkers that hail from other regions of South Africa, such as the Eastern Cape, also encountered problems returning to work.