SOUTH Africa’s mining industry could do its brand another good turn this year if Government decides to use the sector’s networks to distribute Covid-19 vaccines, once they arrive in the country.

The sector’s footprint in remote areas of the country – the Northern Cape and Limpopo provinces, for instance – as well as its community networks and expertise in healthcare, make it the ‘go-to’ private sector partner for Government, if it wants it.

There’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen. A highlight of last year was the long leash mines and energy minister, Gwede Mantashe, gave to the sector in managing Covid-19 screening, as well as test and trace, and quarantine.

According to James Wellsted, investor relations senior VP at Sibanye-Stillwater, the company can reach up to 400,000 people, including employees, although the quid pro quo is that it wants to vaccinate employees first along with the most vulnerable within its communities.

This would require Government to relax its vaccination plan, and demand of Mantashe he put aside his spat with Sibanye-Stillwater over a mining license application which he contests breaks the rules of the Mining Charter. He should do it.

‘Once empowered, always empowered’ is a contention of the charter (and the reason why Mantashe fell out with Sibanye-Stillwater last year), but let’s not forget that the charter also contains social and labour plan (SLP) provisions which position the mining sector to roll out vaccinations in its communities probably better than Government could achieve.

As for guaranteeing to pay for vaccines, this appears to be a role adopted solely by the government. But a statement from the Minerals Council last week appeared to suggest the sector took a similar position to the country’s medical aid industry by standing by wth financial assistance if required.

That, though, is not the priority. “I don’t think financing the Covid-19 vaccines will be the major problem,” said Charmane Russell, spokeswoman for the Minerals Council which represents the majority of the South African mining industry. “Distribution will be the challenge.”

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