Impala Platinum's Marula mine. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR
Impala Platinum's Marula mine. Picture: TYRONE ARTHUR

Mark Munroe, head of the Impala Platinum Rustenburg mining division, appeared in court on Friday on charges of contravening the lockdown regulations in recalling about 6,000 people back to work.

He appeared in court as the representative of the company, which posted bail of R60,000 for his release while police conducted further investigations into the matter, said Implats spokesman Johan Theron, adding that no date has been set for Munroe’s return to court.

It was JSE-listed Implat’s subsidiary Impala Platinum, which holds the Rustenburg mines, that was charged with violations of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002 by the police, and Munroe appeared in court as its representative, Theron said.

Munroe is the first, high-profile mine manager to be charged with such a violation as the industry prepares to gradually ramp up production in line with regulations set out by the department of mineral resources and energy since the 21-day lockdown started on March 27, which has been extended to the end of April, aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus and Covid-19.

As Rustenburg CEO, Munroe’s name is at the bottom of a letter dated April 12 requesting certain employees to return to the Rustenburg mines, which are the flagship assets in Implats, by April 14. This was after the company received permission from the department to “ramp up operations”.

Police cordoned off all roads leading to the mines and turned people back, saying the company had breached lockdown regulations.

“Mark Munroe appeared in the Bafokeng magistrate’s court this morning to face charges of contravening lockdown regulations, in recalling non-essential services people back to work,” said Theron.

Restarting operations

Implats was doing what many other mining companies have been doing in recalling staff to restart limited operations in line with directives from the department and working to standard operating procedures set out by the Minerals Council SA.

Mineral resources and energy minister Gwede Mantashe said on Thursday that there is a “lot of confusion about a letter sent by Impala to its employees to come back to work”.

“Employers, workers and the government regard that incident as more of an irritation than an issue to be used to measure the reaction of the industry on this matter,” he said at the time of loosening restrictions on the industry.

Implats said it had abided by industry guidelines.

“Through the council, the mining industry has been working closely with the department on a process to systematically recall some non-essential workers and get some operational activities going again after the Easter long weekend,” Theron said. “There was a process and precautionary measures agreed with the department in the application process, which everyone has followed, including Mark.”

It appears there were conflicting interpretations of the regulations and processes between the police and what the industry had agreed with the department.

The 6,000 staff reporting for work had been carefully selected for certain jobs to start preparing the mines for a return to work as lockdown restrictions are eased. The number of recalled staff represents about 20% of total staffing levels.

On Thursday, Mantashe outlined amended regulations for the mining sector, mapping out a gradual process of returning mines to work after the lockdown.

The industry is expected to gradually ramp up production and return to normalised levels late in May, Mantashe said.

Theron said that after what had happened to Munroe, the industry is ironing out interpretations of the amendments so that there would be no repeat of police blocks and arrests of management based on their understanding of the regulations.

Update: April 17 2020 
This article has been updated throughout.

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