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Mantashe asks social partners for views on extended lockdown – sources

Mines and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jeffrey Abrahams)

Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe met with unions on Tuesday, 7 April. Among other things he asked them for their views on the way forward if the 21-day lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic gets extended, according to sources aware of what was discussed at the meeting. The focus was on the mining industry. 

Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe is “very concerned about industry and job losses” and “wanted to get the views of social partners about what must happen if lockdown gets extended,” a source told Business Maverick on condition of anonymity.

That is very interesting and suggests government is clearly thinking about a possible extension to the lockdown. But it is also seeking the views of various stakeholders, which also suggests it is weighing a number of options and opinions. President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday said it was too early to say if the lockdown would be extended.  

Unions were set to meet with Mantashe again on Wednesday, according to another source. 

“The understanding is that if the lockdown is extended 70% of the mining workforce will go back to work. The economy cannot collapse,” said the other source who also asked to be anonymous given the sensitive nature of the discussions.  

A number of mining companies including Anglo American’s Kumba Iron Ore unit have been allowed to operate at reduced capacity and production. The green light has also been given for some platinum and chrome operations to continue. These mines are generally mechanised or open pit – so they don’t have huge numbers of workers in close proximity underground – and some produce commodities used in the medical industry. 

There would likely be public support for any attempt to reboot parts of the economy safely in the event of an extended lockdown. 

The National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) have expressed concerns in recent days about miners going to work during the shutdown but the industry is committed to take a range of precautions. Business Maverick understands that AMCU was not in attendance at the meeting which could complicate matters. 

The mining industry accounts for about 8% of South Africa’s GDP, which is currently contracting, and is a key source of foreign exchange earnings. It also employs over 400,000 workers many of whom have several dependants. BM

This story has been updated.