Mines are likely to return to full operation by the middle of May as production will be phased-in following the end of the national lockdown, according to the Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe.
Non-essential mining activity had been suspended since the beginning of a national lockdown which began on March 26, in a move meant to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus which has caused havoc around the world and hit economic growth. The lockdown is expected to be lifted on April 30, following a two-week extension.
Smelters had been allowed to operate at reduced capacity during the lockdown, including care and maintenance of plants.
Addressing media on the amended regulations for the mining sector, which are aimed at allowing a phased economic activity, Mantashe said operations which had been allowed to run at 50% capacity would gradually increase capacity, as determined by the department.
He said it would be "wishful thinking" to expected mines start production soon after the end of the lockdown on May 30. He said it could be "deep into May before they come into full production".
Mines are required to adhere to strict screening and testing for Covid-19 as they ramp-up production, and provide quarantine facilities for employees.
Only coal mines that supply Eskom have been allowed to operate at full capacity. Companies have been mum about the cost of the lockdown on revenues, as as well the impact of jobs.
However, economists have forecast that the industry which has in the past years been shedding jobs of companies closed down loss making shafts could be severely impacted by the unprecedented shutdown, leading to further job losses.
Last week, Impala Platinum caused a stir among labour unions when it summoned workers to return to work despite the lockdown; the company said the call to return to work was "specifically aimed at ensuring a safe and orderly return to work after the provision of the lockdown are lifted".
"Enabling a gradual return to work, subject to specific precautionary measures...will go a long way in ensuring a safe and orderly start-up," said spokesperson Alice Lourens.
Under the new amendments, refineries are also allowed to operate at full capacity to prevent a shortage of fuel.
Early this month, Sasol announced that it would stop production at its Natref refinery due to an "unpredecented decline" in demand since the start of the national lockdown.