Workers return from a shift at Zimplats' Ngwarati mine. Picture: REUTERS
Workers return from a shift at Zimplats' Ngwarati mine. Picture: REUTERS

Harare — Zimbabwe’s largest platinum company, Zimplats, a subsidiary of SA’s Impala Platinum (Implats), said on Thursday that it has been granted special provision to continue mining despite the country’s 21-day lockdown that started on Monday.

Mining is Zimbabwe’s largest earner of foreign currency, and the cash-strapped government is desperate to retain forex earnings despite the Covid-19 lockdown.

On Thursday, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa also launched a $2.2bn (R41.7bn) domestic and international humanitarian appeal to fight Covid-19. So far, eight people have been infected in Zimbabwe, with one death.

Under the 21-day lockdown, most business have been shut down but can be opened if they are regarded to be “essential services”.

Zimplats operates four platinum portals in the western part of the country and employs close to 4,000 workers.

In a statement e-mailed to Business Day on Thursday, the miner said, “Zimplats applied for permission to continue operating under agreed precautionary measures. Permission was granted and allows for mining and processing operations to continue relatively uninterrupted during the lockdown period.

“We must emphasise that the safety of our employees and contractors on all Zimplats sites is a key priority. Additional measures are in place to protect their health while working during the lockdown period, and thereafter.”

Zimplats said it received a force majeure notice from Implats after SA’s lockdown, which commenced at midnight on March 26.

Despite the notification, Zimplats said it would “continue to mine and process ore and will supply Impala, in accordance with the off-take agreement, once the force majeure has been lifted, after the national lockdown”.

Contractors working on capital projects have also been notified of the need to legally suspend contractual obligations until the end of the lockdown.

The Chamber of Mines Zimbabwe has said mineral production for the second quarter of 2020 will decline by 60% compared to the first quarter, with revenue losses exceeding $400m due to the lockdown, adding that estimated losses for gold and platinum, which are the country’s major mineral exports will be about $160m.