Dr Thuthula Balfour has headed and co-ordinated the South African mining industry’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020.

It has been a huge task, requiring her to be the primary contact point for the industry with national and provincial government health officials, government’s COVID-19 ministerial advisory committee, Minerals Council member companies’ health specialists, and the national and international media.

This article first appeared in Mining Elites in Africa 2021
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Her work ensured that the industry’s response was timeous and well-prepared. She began the work as soon as it became clear that a crisis was imminent, to the extent that mining companies were receiving educational, preventative material for employees from early February, a full month before the first case was diagnosed in South Africa and seven weeks before the first case was diagnosed in the industry.

“Thuthula has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills in her role of leading the industry’s response to COVID 19.” – Marcus Courage

This was a strong testimony to that preventative work Thuthula led.

Thuthula was the lead person in developing the mining industry’s standard operating procedure (SOP) used as the basis for, first, COVID-19 mitigation measures for essential service employees who operated through the lockdown, and then for employees returning to work following the gradual loosening of the lockdown.

The SOP was used by the High Court as the basis of an interim order pending the preparation of guidelines by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy that came into force in mid-May.

Under her leadership, the industry had a functional occupational health reporting system. This system was utilised for reporting on COVID-19 cases, making mining the only sector in the country that could produce daily dashboards of cases and deaths from COVID-19 in mining employees.

These were shared with the regulator.

Thuthula has been the primary voice of the industry in conveying to the South African public and various international stakeholders through the media the basis for the industry’s approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic on a basis that has been aligned with the industry’s Zero Harm imperative while enabling the industry to gradually resume productive activities.

In managing the industry’s response to the pandemic, Thuthula has used the immense knowledge and experience she has derived from her years of work in managing other infectious disease public health issues in the mining industry: chief among these tuberculosis (TB) and HIV.

She currently also heads up the Minerals Council’s Masoyise Health Programme, whose goal is to reduce the impact of TB, HIV, occupational lung diseases and non-communicable diseases as occupational health threats in the mining sector.

She was able to use that knowledge to guide the industry towards the best possible management systems for COVID-19.

Her good contacts with, and her understanding of the thinking of, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and the World Health Organisation further equipped her for the huge task she has been carrying out.

Under her leadership, research on COVID-19 was commissioned, with an analysis of risk factors for COVID-19 conducted in selected companies.

Sero-prevalence surveys will be conducted in two companies over the next few months.

Thuthula also led the publication of a Behaviour Change Field Guide to reinforce behaviours that support healthy and safe ways of working in the context of COVID-19.

This Behaviour Change Field Guide was developed to share leading practices and improve the industry’s capacity to promote and enable behaviour change that will help prevent and contain the COVID-19 pandemic.