Foreign mineworkers have begun returning to South African mines, though at a slower rate than hoped, as the industry rebuilds output after the easing of the coronavirus lockdown, the Minerals Council said on Thursday.
The Minerals Council said 698 foreign mineworkers had returned on Tuesday, lower than the 1,150 workers they had planned to bring back.
The return of the migrant workers has been delayed due to technical challenges at border posts and limitations on police staffing, with officers required to escort returning workers from the borders to quarantine facilities.
The ten-day plan to return the foreign workers, who make up about 10% of South Africa’s mining workforce, will now take double that time, said Nikisi Lesufi, senior executive for safety and health at the Minerals Council.
The industry had so far identified 12,500 foreign mineworkers from neighbouring countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique and e-Swatini who are needed to return to South Africa.
The industry, which has around 75% of its workforce back following the lockdown, has recorded 28 deaths and 3,519 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far.
South Africa has recorded 224,664 cases of COVID-19 and 3,602 deaths, according to the latest health ministry update on Wednesday.
50% production capacity
The government of South Africa has agreed to allow the mining sector to operate at up to 50% of its production capacity during the nationwide lockdown.
The government amended the Disaster Management Act regulations to allow mining companies to ramp up operations to half of their capacities.
However, the government also advised the sector to implement all preventive measures and ensure the safety of the workers.