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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the human rights of mine workers and mining affected communities during the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa


The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) continues to monitor, particularly through the Chairperson of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights (WGEI) and Country Rapporteur for South Africa, Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, the human and peoples’ rights impact of the novel corona virus (COVID-19) regulations in South Africa particularly as these relate to mining operations, mine workers and mining affected communities. The Commission expresses its commendation to H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa for the measures that South Africa adopted within the framework of the Commission’s 24 March 2020 Press Statement on Human Rights Based Effective Response to COVID19 including the efforts made for using the crisis as an opportunity for expanding the socio-economic rights of the most vulnerable in South Africa through provision of access to water for those without water, shelter for the homeless and the adoption of major economic relief package that includes cash transfer for those who lost their livelihoods/jobs and distribution of food parcels for those in desperate need of such support.  

With respect to COVID19 and mining operations, the African Commission, while recognizing the need for continuation of mine operations at a reduced capacity during COVID19, notes the imperative for the state and mining companies to adopt regulatory and protective measures to safeguard both the health and safety of miners and the host communities in accordance with the principles in the Commission’s State Reporting Guidelines and Principles relating to the Extractive Industries. In this regard, the Commission applauds the decision of the Labour Court of South Africa that the State must develop binding regulations on mining during the COVID-19 pandemic, through meaningful engagement with relevant trade unions and mining affected communities.

The judgement, handed down on 04 May 2020 notes the particular vulnerability of mine workers to COVID-19, firstly because they “operate in confined spaces where social distancing is difficult or impossible” and secondly that mine workers are widely affected by lung diseases and HIV/Aids, both of which likely make them more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. It also notes the vulnerability of the host communities as workers flood back into these communities, and expresses concern about the weaker health care systems in rural areas. The Commission notes other risks to the community could include the impact of air pollution due to mining activity on people’s overall health and increased risk of their susceptibility to the virus, and the additional pressure placed on limited water resources by mining, as water is crucial to maintaining hygiene during the pandemic.

The Commission underscores the imperative of implementing the decision of the court speedily as a guarantee for protecting mine workers and their communities, who, on account of their socio-economic positions, the nature of mine work, the negative impacts of mining  and lack of access to various social amenities, could be at higher risk of suffering from the impacts of the spread of COVID19. 

 

Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso

Chairperson of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations

Commissioner Rapporteur for the Republic of South Africa

 

Banjul, 07 May 2020