Annually in February for the past 25 years the global mining community convenes in Cape Town, South Africa for the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba. For four days the Cape Town Convention Centre is buzzing with different mining discussions ranging from investment, mining policy and mineral exploration to mineral exploitation, particularly within the African continent. The usual attendees are mining companies, exploration companies, banks, statesmen and the country’s mineral resources regulator, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). The presence of the DMR is significant because it sets the investment tone and provides policy direction to different mining industry players.
Discussions that usually take centre stage are naturally the South Africa’s mineral resources policy, exploration, technology, investment and sustainability. In recent years at the mining indaba the issues of sustainability have increasingly shifted from the periphery and entered into core discussions particularly on water and energy.
This year was no different, similar discussions of interest to the global mining community dominated. Naturally, Interesting to me were discussions on sustainable mining and mine closures. Though included in the sustainability sessions, mine closure discussions were limited, in the periphery and not afforded the same centre stage as other phases in the Life of Mine (LoM).
At the Southern Coal Conference, a week prior to the mining indaba, discussions that took centre stage were policy, investment, markets and clean coal technologies, again no significant discussions about mine closures were on the agenda.
It is without doubt that South Africa will experience mine closures on a large scale in the Mpumalanga coalfields, either as a result of depletion of viable mineral reserves at the end of LoM, mines placed under ‘care and maintenance’
(as seen in the case of Optimum Coal Mine)or favouring an energy mix that is less reliant on coal responding to the effects of climate change.
The exploitation of mineral resources is a temporary activity and therefore mine closures are inevitable.
Not recognizing the ‘elephant in the room’ exposes the mining community (regulator, mining companies, investors and communities) to various risks.
When investing in mining projects, mine closures are seldom on the investor’s radar and neither are their associated costs. The Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine in West Rand, Gauteng is one example of an abandoned mine where closure is pending due to a number of reasons including insufficient allocation of funds for closure.
The communities where mining projects occur however are the most impacted and affected long after mines are no longer operational and are either abandoned or not closed in a sustainable manner.
Often communities are left behind with an undesirable environmental legacy and in the absence of sustainable mine closures communities have no alternative livelihood.
According to the data investigation conducted by Oxpeckers on South Africa’s mine closures, since 2011 the regulator has not issued closure certificates to large coal mines. This has resulted unintended consequences where mines are either abandoned (adding to the 6000 abandoned/derelict mines from the repealed Minerals Act 50 of 1991)or placed under ‘care and maintenance’ indefinitely.
Yes, Africa is open for business and investment for its mineral resources. However, long after all those minerals are depleted or are no longer viable to be mined. Africa stills remain home to many of its communities. Therefore, policy and investment conversations at global platforms such as the African Mining Indaba must bring discussions about transitioning the mining economy towards sustainable livelihood post-mine closure to the centre stage.
- Ntombifuthi Monedi-Noko, Pr.Sci.Nat, MBA PhD Candidate-University of the Witwatersrand Research Interests: Mine Closures, Sustainability, Mining & Mineral Regulatory Framework, Climate Change in the Mining Sector

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