BUSINESS MAVERICK

World’s deepest mine shuts after 164 Covid-19 cases detected

By Ed Stoddard 25 May 2020

AngloGold Ashanti's Mponeng mine has been closed after Covid-19 cases were detected among workers. (Photo: EPA / Jon Hrusa)

The impact of the pandemic has now extended 4km below the surface of the planet. Mponeng, operated by AngloGold Ashanti and the world’s deepest mine, has detected 164 cases of Covid-19 among its workforce.

AngloGold said on Sunday, 24 May that 164 of the employees at its Mponeng operation west of Johannesburg had tested positive for Covid-19, forcing the temporary closure of the world’s deepest mine and laying bare the vulnerability of mining communities to the pandemic. 

“AngloGold confirms that, following the detection of its first positive Covid-19 case at its Mponeng Mine last week, a comprehensive screening, contact tracing and testing programme has revealed several cases at the site in Merafong, in Gauteng Province,” the company said in a statement.

“AngloGold conducted 650 tests since last Thursday, including primary contacts and many who wished to be tested on a voluntary basis. This process has indicated 164 positive cases with only a handful of tests left to process. Importantly, of the positive cases, the vast majority are asymptomatic. All positive cases will be isolated in line with national health protocols, with on-site facilities available for those who may need them,” it said.

It is revealing that so many of the cases are asymptomatic, which suggests that the pandemic is well rooted in the surrounding communities in western Gauteng and beyond.

The mine, which had been operating at 50% capacity with a workforce of 2,400, has temporarily halted operations. Contact tracing will be carried out in the meantime while the mine — which AngloGold is in the process of selling to Harmony Gold — will be subjected to a deep cleaning and sanitisation. 

This follows the closure of the Marula mine in Limpopo, operated by Impala Platinum, after 19 cases of the disease were unearthed. It also comes as the main mining unions, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), have expressed concerns about the reboot of the sector, which accounts for about 8% of gross domestic product. 

Mponeng, which began its restart on 30 April, is the world’s deepest mine with gold extracted at depths of up to 4km — the pandemic’s impact is now being felt well below the surface of the earth, though the real fallout remains above ground. BM

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