The Honourable Minister of Mineral Resources, Ms Susan Shabangu, reinforced during her 2012 budget speech on 10 May 2012, amongst other things, that the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) remains determined to continue issuing stoppage notices in terms of section 54 of the Mine Health and Safety Act, No. 29 of 1996 (MHSA) to ensure compliance with the MHSA.

The Minister stated, "I want to state categorically that it is mischievous to regard section 54 as the only contributor to the loss of production. This flies in the face of the reality that mine operational challenges, can contribute significantly to low production".

The Minister added that the stakeholder task team charged with investigating concerns in respect of the application of section 54 stoppage notices had finalised its investigation. It has been stated in the press that the task team's report outlining its recommendations regarding the future implementation of section 54 stoppage notices was ready for consideration.

No doubt all stakeholders, including mining companies, will be anxious to see if, and how, the DMR intends to integrate and balance the task team's findings in relation to the actual implementation of section 54 notices in future, and to see if consistency, transparency and certainty is achieved.

What does appear to be certain is that the DMR intends to adopt an approach of stronger enforcement of the MHSA and its penalties in future, which will include the use of section 54 stoppage notices.

Mining companies should continue to ensure that their health and safety systems are implemented in strict compliance with the MHSA. Careful consideration and advice should be obtained before legally challenging unqualified section 54 notices, which in certain circumstances may run concurrently with the usual upliftment procedures before the DMR.

Interestingly, out of the DMR's tabled budget for the 2012/2013 financial year which in total is ZAR1 169 billion, only ZAR154 million has been reserved for Health and Safety, with Mineral Policy and Promotion enjoying the lion's share of the budget allocation in the amount of ZAR596 million. The Minister stated that the DMR utilised 99,1% of its budget allocation of ZAR1 039 billion in the 2011/2012 financial year.

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