May 23, 2017

South African government defends compulsory safety stoppages

In response to highly publicised concerns raised by South Africa’s Chamber of Mines and the Chief Executive Officer of Harmony Gold in particular, the government of South Africa has justified its seemingly zero-tolerance approach to safety lapses.

In a press statement, the Department of Mineral Resources says while acknowledging that role of mining as the strategic tools in the socio-economic emancipation of its people, as the vanguard of society, government is tasked with balancing the competing interests of capital and labour, amongst others, while improving the lives of all South African people.

Making reference to statement which the Minister of Mineral Resources, Minister Mosebetsi Zwane, made during his visit to Doornkop mine in 2015, the Department stresses that its primary aim is to ensure the health and safety of all workers and  Government will stop at nothing to achieve the ‘one life lost is one too many’ mantra”.

The DMR says while it is cognisant of the stark realities and various challenges faced by the mining industries as compounded by the global economic realities, health and safety and in the mining sector cannot be compromised.

“Whilst a mine owner would attempt to clarify the statistics by comparison with previous years, possibly to show a decline and/or improvement in such statistics, the harsh reality is this – these are human lives and statistics, fathers, brothers sons wives, daughters, sisters buried. Every one lost is lost to a family that grieves them. They are often bread-winners providing for large family units.”

Whilst creating regulatory framework that aide in driving growth in the mining sector remains a key objective of the department, it cannot and will not be at the expense of the people of this country, the Department stresses. “Society can ill-afford to compromise human lives in the interest of commercial gains. It is the role of Government to govern and to legislate in a decisive manner. It is the role of business to run its business, to adhere to the rules and regulations and to allow the policies tobe implemented. “

With regard to safety obligations, a particular instrument of contention is section 54 of the Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA). There are provisions for recourse built into the MHSA, where a party who’s been issued with section 54 notices and believes they are unjustified without can challenge the said issuing.

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