A stack reclaimer with a pile of iron ore. Picture: REUTERS
A stack reclaimer with a pile of iron ore. Picture: REUTERS

JSE-diversified miner Afrimat says it will restart limited iron ore mining, railing and sales during the 21-day lockdown of the economy ordered by the state.

Mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe said on March 26, the day before the lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, that limited mining could continue if approved by his department, as well as furnaces and refineries.

The balance, he said, was between keeping employees safe and allowing mining companies to restart as quickly as possible once the lockdown ended on April 16, as well as keeping supplies of critical minerals flowing.

Kumba Iron Ore, Africa’s largest source of the steel ingredient, has said it plans to restart its Sishen and Kolomela mines with half the workforce, keeping distances and protection measures enforced during this period. Kumba produces about 40-million tonnes of iron ore a year.

Afrimat, which sold nearly 800,000 tonnes of ore in the 12 months to end-August 2019, said it would also restart limited production, having secured permission from the department as well as rail allocation to move ore from its Demaneng iron ore mine in the Northern Cape to Saldanha port.

“Afrimat has consulted with government authorities and industry bodies in SA to determine and agree on which operations will be continuing, due to constituting essential services.

“Government has revised and created exemptions for other goods, which are critical to the health of the national economy and its revitalisation post the crisis,” it said.

Decisions by companies such as Kumba and its sister Anglo American subsidiary, Anglo American Platinum, and Harmony Gold among others, to continue limited operations at opencast and highly mechanised operations, has angered the National Union of Mineworkers. The union has accused companies of putting profits ahead of the health of their employees.

The end of August 2019 marked Afrimat’s interim financial year. Iron ore in that period contributed nearly a third of the R1.72bn of revenue the company reported and just shy of half the R318m operating profit.

Afrimat also produces construction materials of sand and gravel as well as bricks ad blocks. It mines industrial minerals such as silica, limestone and dolomite.

seccombea@businesslive.co.za