SOUTH Africa’s mining industry could do its brand another good turn this year if Government decides to use the sector’s networks to distribute Covid-19 vaccines, once they arrive in the country.
The sector’s footprint in remote areas of the country – the Northern Cape and Limpopo provinces, for instance – as well as its community networks and expertise in healthcare, make it the ‘go-to’ private sector partner for Government, if it wants it.
There’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen. A highlight of last year was the long leash mines and energy minister, Gwede Mantashe, gave to the sector in managing Covid-19 screening, as well as test and trace, and quarantine.
According to James Wellsted, investor relations senior VP at Sibanye-Stillwater, the company can reach up to 400,000 people, including employees, although it would want to vaccinate employees along with the most vulnerable within its communities. This would require Government to relax its vaccination plan.
For its part, Mantashe’s department ought to spend less time worrying about the ‘once-empowered, always-empowered’ rules in the Mining Charter that caused a spat between him and Sibanye-Stillwater last year, and reflect instead on the baked-in benefits elsewhere in the charter.
One is the social and labour plan (SLPs), sign-up to which is incumbent on all mining companies wanting to keep a new order mining license. Many years of building and implementing the infrastructure and know-how required to fulfill SLP regulations in the Mining Charter are the very mechanism that would allow effective vaccine distribution.
As for guaranteeing to pay for vaccines, this appears to be a role adopted solely by the government. But a statement from the Minerals Council last week appeared to suggest the sector took a similar position to the country’s medical aid industry by standing by wth financial assistance if required.
That, though, is not the priority. “I don’t think financing the Covid-19 vaccines will be the major problem,” said Charmane Russell, spokeswoman for the Minerals Council which represents the majority of the South African mining industry. “Distribution will be the challenge.”