JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The return of the 12 500 foreign mineworkers to South Africa’s mines is taking double the time planned.
The initial ten-day plan of Minerals Council South Africa has become a 20-day plan because of the need to overcome bottlenecks.
“The Minerals Council had worked on a ten-day plan but that ten-day plan is no longer ten consecutive days but its ten every other day so you could literally translate it into about 20 days for double the time,” Minerals Council South Africa senior executive: environment, health and legacies Nikisi Lesufi said during the latest virtual Covid-19 update media conference in which Mining Weekly participated.
“From the Minerals Council perspective, in terms of the return of mineworkers, we have been engaging with the different structures of government,” he said.
After a lengthy set of discussions with the different structures of government, the first groups of mineworkers returned to South Africa last Tuesday, July 7 – but they numbered 452 fewer than planned.
Of the 12 500 mineworkers who have been identified by their companies in terms of their skills requirements, a return of 1 150 on day one was scheduled.
But, as it happened, the border posts could not manage all the numbers planned and only 698 workers managed to go through the system.
“There were a number of reasons. The system was being upgraded, was being rebooted, it was closed on March 25 and it had to be restructured and so it was quite slow.
“But we’re happy that close to 700 workers came through and the distribution of the workers is that 217 came from Mozambique, through the Lebombo borer post, 295 from Lesotho through Maseru Bridge and 186 from Eswatini through Oshoek,” said Lesufi.
They were transported by buses and taxis to their respective quarantine sites, most which are close to places of work.
“All of these buses and taxis had an occupancy rate of 70% and we think that everything went well,” Lesufi told journalists..
The plan is to process all the other miners every second day because of the operational requirements of the South African Police Services (SAPS). SAPS personnel escort the foreign mineworkers from the border posts to the quarantine sites, and on the following day, travel back to the border posts to escort the next batch of workers.
Another batch of foreign mineworkers returned on Thursday, July 9, and more groupings are scheduled to come through on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays going forward until all are back.
“In the first instance, we had thought that we would arrange for the first tranche of workers to come through on July 1, over a ten-day period that would take the entire 12 500 workers over a ten-day period. But that could not fly because the systems of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) needed to be rebooted and brought up to date, which took about seven days.
“Secondly, there was a change of shift and workers needed to be retrained around the new system in place. And then, when we were ready to roll, SAPS insisted that they needed to escort the buses and the taxis from the border posts up to the quarantine facilities. But because of operational requirements, they did not necessarily have sufficient human resources to be able to assist us with that transportation.
“So, we had to settle for mineworkers travelling from the border post to the quarantine facilities on day one. On day two, SAPS escorts travelling back to the border posts, and only on day three the second tranche of workers coming through.
“The capacities of the border posts are still as we had planned, with 300 coming through Lesotho, 400 coming through Mozambique, 200 coming through Eswatini, and smaller numbers coming through from Botswana and Zimbabwe.
“We do have a challenge in terms of the capacity of SAPS to provide escorts, so we’ll be going back to NatJoints to offer the fact that we need to be given the opportunity to provide our own private escorts and if they do agree, then we’ll be able to do the repatriation over a two-week period,” Lesufi explained.
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, or NatJoints, includes SAPS, the South African National Defence Force and the various Metro police departments.
Mining Weekly can report that following on-site visits to the border posts it was concluded that the capacity of the DHA at the border control offices would be the determining factor in deciding on the volume of throughput while observing Covid precautions.