BREAKING: South Africa to shut all mines, furnaces as country enters 21-day shutdown

South Africa will enter a 21-day nationwide lockdown from midnight on Thursday March 26 and ordered the country’s metals and mining operations to be placed on care and maintenance.

In an address to the nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the move was in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and would last until midnight on April 16. 

“Companies whose operations require continuous processes, such as furnaces, underground mine operations, will be required to make arrangements for care and maintenance to avoid damage to their continuous operations,” Ramaphosa said. 

“Firms that are able to continue their operations remotely should do so,” he added. 

A further briefing will be held at 10:00 Cape Town/08:00 London time on March 24 to provide details on how the measures will be implemented. 

Fears had been growing that the metals, mining and alloy-producing sectors in South Africa, which analysts estimate accounts for 70%, 60% and 35% of platinum, chrome and manganese production, respectively, could be hit by the virus

The coronavirus outbreak has already harmed the stainless steel sector, with Fastmarkets’ chrome ore South Africa UG2 concentrates index basis 42%, cif China, falling to $114 per tonne on March 20, down from $122 per tonne on March 13.

The manganese market, meanwhile, has been cushioned by vast ore stocks in Chinese ports that have been undermining prices for months and were blamed for the sharp drop in prices when the impact of the virus started to bite.

Fastmarkets’ manganese ore index 37% Mn, cif Tianjin, rose by 1 cent to $3.96 per dry metric tonne unit (dmtu) on March 20 versus the previous day but was still down from a 2020 peak of $4.48 per dmtu on February 7.

South Africa’s Northern Cape province is home to the 250,000-tonne-per-year capacity Gamsberg zinc mine and the Kumba iron ore operation, which saw sales of 41.97 million tonnes in 2019.