Wedela: A North West mining community afraid of Covid-19 and hunger

Wedela: A North West mining community afraid of Covid-19 and hunger
A woman in her yard in Wedela, North West. Residents feel that the government is not doing enough for their well-being. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

As AngloGold Ashanti battles to contain the coronavirus outbreak at its Mponeng Mine in North West, residents of Wedela, an area close to the mine, have expressed their fear over the potential spread of the virus into the community.

The streets of Wedela in North West are relatively quiet except for a couple of people walking down the road. A team of security officers are on patrol while a taxi gets washed at a local rank. At a tuckshop, a sign is displayed, advertising herbal male enhancing supplements, but there are no customers today. January, the owner, stands outside. His English is limited and he is unable to give his last name, but this does not prevent him from telling Daily Maverick that he fears Covid-19.

A sign advertising herbal male enhancement supplements behind store owner January. January with his limited English is still able to get his message across — and that is his fear of the virus. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Wedela is a small mining community surrounded by some of the richest mines in the world, including the AngloGold Ashanti Mponeng Mine. It’s at this mine where more than 164 miners have tested positive for Covid-19, leading to the closure of the mine.

An unidentified miner says not enough is being done for them or their families. He doesn’t know whether he has the virus. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Like January, many other Wedela residents fear the virus and believe that government and mining companies have not done enough for them and their safety. But it is not their only fear. They worry about putting food on the table and supporting their families.

A classroom in the Wedela Technical Secondary School after preparations were made for the reopening of schools. Some residents expressed concern for the safety of their children after an increase in coronavirus cases in the area. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“Since this virus came, things are very hard. It’s hard for us financially because I have a child and live with my sister and her three kids. We are both unemployed. The social grant is not paid on the first of every month, we have to wait for certain days and we find that we don’t have anything in the house. You have to go outside and hustle, but how are you going to do that when you cannot come into contact with people because they also fear that you might have the virus?” asked Ayanda, who did not want to provide her real name.

The Anglo Gold Ashanti Mponeng Mine situated in Carletonville, West of Johannesburg, 27 May 2020. More than 190 miners there were tested positive for Covid-19. In an effort to fight the virus AngloGold Ashanti has donated a hospital building on the West Rand, a dedicated intensive care facility of close to 150 beds. It has donated another fully equipped hospital near Orkney, West of Johannesburg with close to 300 beds, solely for community use, and also a 500-bed facility to house frontline healthcare workers. They have also embarked on a large testing campaign. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“This corona thing came as a great tragedy to all of us. It really bothers me that the only thing we are concerned about is washing our hands and taking care of our faces. What if we are stepping on the virus, and now that the virus has affected the mine workers, it gives me fear. What if we also contract the virus? What if we get sick? We don’t know much about it, we only know that we have to sanitise and wear a mask every day,” Ayanda said.

A miner who spoke on condition of anonymity said:

“I did not go to work today because I am afraid, we have families and don’t want them to get sick. The mine does not care about us, they are supposed to think about us.” 

A medical worker at a mobile testing facility in Wedela. The Department of Health has intensified screening and testing campaigns in the area. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

When asked how he felt about the virus, he responded:

“I am so scared of corona, it is dangerous. I don’t know, even as I stand right now, I don’t know if I have corona or not. They (the mine) don’t test us, they only take our temperature.”

Residents and health workers at a screening for the virus at a mobile testing facility in Wedela. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

But Stewart Bailey, executive vice president, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at AngloGold Ashanti said:

“The health and well-being of our employees is of the utmost importance to us. We have provided isolation and quarantine facilities for all who need them and will be providing support to their families. We have the highest medical care on offer. We are also working with key stakeholders across the spectrum to raise awareness around the most effective way to combat the virus.”

A medical worker at a mobile testing facility in Wedela. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Bailey said the company had a large testing campaign, but the tests only provide a snapshot of an individual’s status at a single point in time, “and we need to ensure that we continue to do everything possible to prevent the spread of the illness and detect those who may have it in order that we can isolate and test them”.

Lehlohonolo Tente, right, and Sello Maroibaki pose for a photograph outside Maroibaki’s home in Wedela. Maroibaki has expressed concern over the growing increase in Covid-19 cases and fears for the safety of his community. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

He said all employees’ salaries and benefits, including those who had not reported back to work due to the 50% capacity limit put into place during Level 4, had been paid for the duration of the lockdown.

A herder near the AngloGold Ashanti Mponeng Mine. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“This also includes employees that will be put in isolation. Our current payroll is close to R265-million per month,” he said.

The outbreak of Covid-19 in the area has drawn the attention of the North West Department of Health which has set up mobile screening and testing facilities for residents.

Over the past few days, scores of residents have visited the mobile facilities.

“We are working with mines to ensure proper management of cases. The outbreak teams are doing contact tracing. We have offered three of our quarantine sites to them and there will also be intensified screening and testing campaigns in the area,” said Kwara Kekana, spokesperson for the North West MEC for Health. DM


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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