South Africa’s iconic mines, from the ever-deepening gold shafts on which the economy was founded to massive iron ore pits and rich platinum seams, are about to go silent.
From midnight Thursday, all but a few coal operations needed to fuel the country’s power stations are expected to be included in a nationwide lockdown aimed at containing the coronavirus. The sweeping shutdown is unprecedented in the 150-year history of South Africa’s mining industry, which today employs more than 450 000 people.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is moving quickly to curb the virus spread as infections threaten to spiral out of control in a country with an already strained health system and rampant unemployment. The army will help police to enforce the lockdown, with grocers, pharmacies, banks, filling stations and other essential services allowed to remain open.
Producers from Harmony Gold, the nation’s biggest producer of the precious metal, to top platinum miner Sibanye Stillwater said they’re bracing for earnings hits as mines move to care and maintenance, an industry term for when production stops but essential services like underground water pumping continue.
Anglo American said it will review the detailed regulations on the lockdown when they’re published, including for potential exemptions.
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