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Implats’ Marula mine to close after 13 miners test positive for Covid-19

A worker holds rocks of raw platinum ore for a photograph at the Northam Platinum Ltd. Booysendal platinum mine, located outside the town of Lydenburg in Mpumalanga, South Africa, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Impala Platinum (Implats) will likely temporarily close its Marula mine in Limpopo on Saturday, 16 May, after 13 employees tested positive for Covid-19. Most were asymptomatic and caught in the screening process before they entered the operations. Three staff at the mine's clinic which has been shut since Wednesday have also tested positive. 

A trade union source told Business Maverick that 13 miners at the Marula platinum mine had tested positive for Covid-19, and Implats spokesman Johan Theron confirmed this was the case. Business Maverick understands the Limpopo Department of Health will hold a press conference at midday about the issue.

“We are picking up asymptomatic people who are not showing symptoms,” Theron said. He said the company’s protocols go beyond testing people showing symptoms with a focus on older staff and those who have crossed provincial boundaries recently or been to hot spots such as the Eastern Cape.

Theron said the concern was that employees have also been picking up the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 in the nearby town of Burgersfort and surrounding settlements. As a precaution, the company closed Marula’s clinic on Wednesday to screen the staff and it has since emerged that three of those health practitioners tested positive. The clinic is being sanitised and cleaned. 

Theron said the workforce has been operating on week-long shifts and that when Saturday’s shift at Marula ends, the mine will likely close temporarily. 

The Covid-19 portal on the Mineral Council’s website shows 23 cases to date in the industry, seven in the platinum sector. Presumably, that needs to be updated but given that there are over 400,000 miners in South Africa, the industry seems to have contained the spread so far. 

The mining industry has been under scrutiny as it reboots during Stage 4 of the lockdown – several mines had been operating under Stage 5 as well – and the Marula situation will be high on the radar screen of stakeholders. 

Marula is located in the eastern limb of the platinum belt, an area that is a flashpoint of social and labour unrest, and so the situation will need to be handled carefully. Implats at one time had considered moth-balling Marula because its operations were frequently being disrupted by protests linked to a community chrome deal with tribal authorities. BM