Kelvin Dushnisky. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Kelvin Dushnisky. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

AngloGold Ashanti handed over two hospitals to fight the spread of Covid-19 as the mining sector comes under criticism from some unions over their approach to the 21-day lockdown.

Mining companies geared up to provide employees with safety and protective gear as well as sanitising products ahead of the national lockdown that started on March 27.

A small number of mining companies have applied for, and been granted, permission to continue limited mining and processing of minerals through furnaces and refineries, which are complex plants to shut down and restart.

This has provoked the ire of organisations such as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which accuses companies of putting profits ahead of lives.

Mining companies such as AngloGold have provided their medical facilities in SA to the state at no cost to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed five people in SA and infected about 1,380, with about 50 recovered.

The fully equipped, 270-bed hospital near Orkney in North West and the mothballed 300-bed hospital near Carletonville, Gauteng, form part of the $300m asset sale to Harmony Gold by AngloGold.

With the sale of the Mponeng mine, the tailing reprocessing business Mine Waste Solutions, and two other idled mines for $300m cash and a percentage of future gold sales coming from expansion projects, AngloGold will no longer have an operating presence in its historic home base.

AngloGold CEO Kelvin Dushnisky has repeatedly said SA will remain a core country for the company, providing a range of services to the group with assets in 10 countries.

Mponeng, the deepest mine in the world at 4km below surface, has been shut in line with government restrictions. The deal with Harmony should be finalised in June, but with the economic shutdown this time frame may change.

Industry response

The loan of the hospitals to the state is part of the mining industry’s response to the crisis, which involves making onsite healthcare facilities available to provincial medical departments.

According to data from the Minerals Council SA, the industry representative group whose members account for 90% of the  country’s mining, there are 2,000 hospital beds available for people with mild Covid-19 symptoms and need to be quarantined. There are a further 400 beds for seriously ill people needing intensive medical care.

“The quarantining and treatment of patients is the domain of the department of health, and the way in which these facilities will be used and run will be decided in conjunction with the department. But the industry does have expertise in dealing with respiratory illnesses, and in isolation, which could support the national imperative,” said council spokesperson Charmane Russell.

The hospital near Carletonville was stripped a few years ago and its equipment sold or donated, but the basic infrastructure remains in good condition and could quickly be refitted and used, said Dr Bafedile Chauke, AngloGold’s vice-president of  health. “The Gauteng department of health is working to ensure it is fully equipped and recommissioned in the coming weeks.” 

AngloGold has donated R20m to the Solidarity Response Fund set up by the state to combat Covid-19, as well as masks, intensive-care hospital beds, water tanks, food parcels and mobile toilets.

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