Basotho miners’ jobs at stake in SA

Bathopele Mine - Underground - ABS Training - Sydney Mabale (miner) explains the safety marking system to Phillemon Molemi (LHD Operator) Kenneth Xhantini (Sweeper), Petrick Semalkhe (LHD Operator) and Annanias (LHD Operator) at Section 6, West Central

As mining in South Africa returns to full capacity

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) has warned that thousands of Basotho jobs are hanging by a thread at South African mines and called on Prime Minister, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, to come out of hiding and talk to South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa to save the jobs. LCD leader, Mothetjoa Metsing, claimed this week a huge number of jobs of Basotho working in South African mines could vanish unless the government takes urgent action to ensure that the miners return to work.

Mining in South Africa returned to full capacity on June 1, when the country moved to level three of its national lockdown but mineworkers from neighbouring countries have not been allowed back to work yet. “South African mines have resumed operations but they have not called foreign mineworkers, including Basotho, back to work. We call on Prime Minister Majoro to talk with his colleague president Ramaphosa to ensure that Basotho mineworkers return to work,” Metsing said.

“We are aware that the South African government has said it wants that country’s new economy that will emerge after lockdown to prioritise South Africans, meaning there are people who might want Basotho miners to be replaced with South Africans. Our prime minister must ensure that our people do not lose their jobs,” he added.

In May, South Africa’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni, declared that businesses and industries had to prioritise employment of South Africans before they could access a share of the R500 billion economic support package that Ramaphosa promised to cushion the private sector against the impact of the coronavirus lockdown.

Mboweni urged companies to allow more South Africans to participate in the economy than foreign nationals. “Any establishment wanting to re-open must have a new labour market policy which prioritises South Africans, but does not discriminate against foreign nationals,” he said. What Mboweni said is standard practice around the world.

Public Eye was not unable to get a comment from Majoro this week but the ministry of labour and employment on Wednesday said under level three, South African mines were allowed to ramp-up business, bringing the mining industry to full capacity of production.

However, the office of the Government Secretary yesterday issued a press release announcing Majoro’s visit to South Africa to meet Ramaphosa on “issues of common interest and further collaboration, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The statement promised to release information on the outcomes of this visit when Majoro, who is accompanied by his deputy Mathibeli Mokhothu, returns. The labour ministry said the mines were also allowed to ask their workers from the neighbouring countries to return to work. It said TEBA was working with the Minerals Council South Africa and mining companies to facilitate the return of foreign mineworkers, “including Basotho”.

“The companies will submit to TEBA, lists of names of workers that are supposed to go back to work. The workers will return in batches. “Therefore, all Basotho who work in the South African mines are asked to continue staying at home at protect themselves against COVID-19,” the ministry said. TEBA was established more than a century ago, after the second Anglo-Boer War in 1902, to support South African mines in expanding mineral production.

Initially, its role was solely focused on the recruitment of mine workers. During the weekly online COVID-19 media briefing on June 4, the Minerals Council South Africa announced that the return of the foreign employees will take place under very strict agreed conditions, including screening in their home countries and two weeks of quarantine, in facilities provided by the mines.

Some members (companies) requested the Minerals Council to approach the National Department of Health to request a dispensation that would allow for the return of foreign workers from their home countries,” said Nikisi Lesufi, the senior executive for environment, health and legacies.

We have received a list of 9 500 from our members,” Lesufi added. The roughly 34 000 other foreign mine workers are mostly presumed to have stayed in South Africa during the lockdown. “The return of the foreign employees will take place under very strict agreed conditions,” Lesufi said and indicated that the whole process was expected to take up to three months. Foreigners reportedly now only account for about 10 to 15 percent of the South Africa’s mining labour force, around 44 000, sharply down from previous decades.

Gold Fields spokesperson, Sven Lunsche, said reaching 100 percent capacity and bringing back 100 percent of employees would be challenging. Lunsche said bringing back the foreign nationals would not be easy. He said the industry would take time to reach maximum production as returning employees needed to get tested before entering the mining premises. “That alone will take a couple of weeks before we are at full capacity again,” Lunsche said. “I suspect it is going to be a month before we reach full capacity from June 1, and it might even be later than that,” he added.

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