The mining industry, a key economic contributor to gross domestic product, will be driving the COVID-19 vaccination programme not only of its own workforce of 450 000 employees, but also of employee family members and some community members.
“As an industry, our foremost priority is the health and safety of our employees. We need to get as many jabs-in-arms as possible, as quickly as possible, to save lives and livelihoods,” said Minerals Council South Africa president Mxolisi Mgojo during a virtual State of the Mining Nation address.
“We believe that as an industry we can vaccinate between 60 000 and 80 000 people a day – so around three million in two months. And that’s not just our own workforce of 450 000 people,” he said.
For every employee vaccinated, the sector was looking to vaccinate at least five more people (employee family members or community members).
According to Mgojo, the sector’s preparedness in dealing with health-related issues gave it an edge in dealing effectively with the pandemic in 2020, going into 2021.
“At no time during 2020 has the industry let down its guard,” always ensuring that sanitising, social distancing, mask wearing, stringent screening and testing protocols were put in place. Further to this, every day close to 400 000 employees are screened and, where necessary, tested.
Unfortunately, and despite these efforts, around 275 miners have succumbed to COVID-19.
By the first week of February this year, an estimated 2.3 million deaths were recorded worldwide. For the mining industry, which has been working hard to reach its zero-harm target, the fatalities have been a serious blow.
In 2019 the industry recorded the lowest number of fatalities in the mining history, Mgojo said.
Although the industry’s safety programme was broadened in 2020 to encompass COVID-19, the sector was “disappointed” in the increase in fatalities.
Falls of ground continued to be a significant challenge in the platinum and gold sectors, with transport-related accidents impacting the coal and platinum sectors. Further to this, gravity-related rock falls and seismic-related rock bursts were also key challenges faced.
SA targets a larger slice of exploration spend
South Africa’s inability to attract greater exploration spend continues to be disappointing for the mining industry. According to Mgojo, in 2019, South Africa accounted for only 1% of global exploration expenditure, far less than its peers Canada and Australia.
Between 2000 and 2018, Canada attracted $2-billion in exploration spend and Australia $1.8bn, compared with just $194-million attracted by South Africa.
As such, the industry, led by Minister Gwede Mantashe, was looking to grab more of the exploration spend and was looking at ways to garner up to 5% or $500m in the next few years.
Mgojo cited lack of transparency in the permitting system, delays in the issuing of permits, regulatory uncertainty and a lack of proper tax incentives as being among the key reasons for South Africa’s inability to attract the required investments.
Mining industry performance
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the mining sector made noteworthy industry contributions, including the sale of R608bn in primary mineral sales compared with R552.5bn in 2019, exports to the value of R414.5bn in sales compared with R361.7bn in 2019 and a contribution of R361.9bn to the gross domestic product compared with R376.4bn in 2019.