Is mine closure sustainable?


PRESS RELEASE: Is mine closure sustainable?

Sandton, South Africa, Tuesday, 5 June 2018 – Mining continues to be one of the main driving forces of the South African economy.  After nearly 150 years of coal mining, the country is facing closure of a large number of coal mines as they come to the end of their lifespan, including mines that have been historically abandoned.  The activities of the mining sector have led to serious environmental consequences.  The regional mining activities have resulted in cumulative impacts such as pollution concentrates in shared water courses that affects the whole Mpumalanga Region.  This calls for a shift in the traditional thinking around mine closure, requiring sustainable solutions that will minimise environmental degradation, loss of income and social and economic stagnation on a regional scale.

Collaborative efforts by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) with private sector companies may hold the answer. At a Nedbank-NBF Networking Forum hosted in Sandton on 5 June 2018, such a collaborative platform, the Mine Water Coordinating Body (MWCB) was launched. The MWCB is a neutral platform for stakeholder engagement from the public, private and civil society sectors which will facilitate and coordinate stakeholder engagement to jointly identify common challenges and to propose and implement joint solutions.

The MWCB has identified critical issues that require immediate corrective action. According to the findings of the MWCB, South Africa’s operational mine water management is not sustainable and there are currently no long-term solutions for water management and mine closure. 

“Significant technical, financial and legal input is required to make our mining sector more sustainable. There has to be a shift in our current approach which is made of solutions that are implemented in silos making the process costly and inefficient.  Partnerships and collaboration between communities, government and private sector are the only way to resolve these issues to ensure a long term sustainable solution for the region”, said Lynette Chen, CEO of the NEPAD Business Foundation (NBF), host of the MWCB.

According to the body, there are difficulties in obtaining legislative approvals for mine effected water use and closure activities. This has to be resolved expediently as some of the coalfields of South Africa are nearing the end of their life spans.  An innovative “triple bottom line” approach to rehabilitation, land management and long-term water management will be followed to ensure that new enterprises and job opportunities are created, thereby ensuring community upliftment.  

“Mine closure is not the end of economic activity in mining communities but the beginning of new opportunities.  The MWCB’s innovative Green Engine project will implement projects to encourage green circular economic development and entrepreneurship during and after mine closure. This will be done through partnership and collaboration between companies and communities on joint projects that will utilise the waste from mines and repurpose them to generate energy, provide water for agriculture and create new businesses that will ensure a ‘second economy’ is created that will sustain the communities post mine closure”, said Ms Ritva Mulhbauer, Manager: Water AngloAmerican Thermal Coal, and Co-Chairperson of the MWCB Steering Committee.

Though the challenges facing the country’s mining sector seem insurmountable, the MWCB believes that they can be overcome. 

“Sustainable mine closure cannot be achieved in isolation, but through collaboration within the mining industry and government, much can be done to create an enabling policy environment for creative and sustainable mine closure options”, said Mr Marius Keet, Chief Director: Mine Water Manager and Co-chairperson of the MWCB Steering Committee.

The partnership for MWCB is expected to grow as the platform gains momentum. Currently, the collaboration platform, hosted by the NEPAD Business Foundation (NBF) consists of the DMR, DWS, Mpumalanga Provincial Government, AngloCoal, South32, Eskom, Exxaro, Glencore, SASOL, Mineral Council of South Africa, Water Research Commission (WRC), Strategic Water Partners Network of South Africa (SWPN), Trans-Caledon Tunnel Agency (TCTA) and various national and international funding agencies and other private entity parties.

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