JOHANNESBURG/LONDON (Reuters) - South Africa’s mining production is likely to fall by between 8% and 10% this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CEO of industry body the Minerals Council said on Tuesday.
Mines across South Africa, the world’s biggest producer of platinum and chrome and a leading producer of gold and diamonds, were forced to shut temporarily when a nationwide lockdown to contain the virus began in late March.
“The impact is very big; it’s probably going to end up being something like an 8 to 10% hit on mining production for this year,” Minerals Council CEO Roger Baxter said during a virtual panel discussion between mining chiefs about the industry.
Harmony Gold CEO Peter Steenkamp said it would take a month for its mines to fully ramp up from June 1 when the country will allow all mines to operate again at full capacity.
Open-cast mines have been allowed to work at full capacity again since May 1, while deep-level mines - where social distancing is more difficult - were restricted to 50%.
Steenkamp said he expects Harmony’s acquisition of AngloGold Ashanti’s Mponeng mine to be completed by the end of July, a month later than previously scheduled.
Some 196 workers at Mponeng have tested positive for COVID-19, and the mine shut on Sunday as a result.
Steenkamp said some of Harmony’s mines are designed for a larger capacity than they are working at currently, making it easier to implement COVID-19 protection measures.
“The size of the cages allows us to have more distancing,” he said, adding however that there are some areas where social distancing cannot be maintained.
“There are mines that have high levels of infections but we have been quite lucky so far,” he added. Harmony Gold has so far said two employees of a contractor at its Kalgold mine tested positive for COVID-19.
Reporting by Helen Reid and Zandi Shabalala; Editing by Mark Potter and Susan Fenton