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Coal miner opening nursery to support million trees, hatchery to restore killed fish

Thungela CEO July Ndlovu interviewed by Mining Weekly's Martin Creamer. Video: Shadwyn Dickinson. Video Editing: Nicholas Boyd.

22nd August 2023

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Thermal coal mining company Thungela will next month open a nursery to support the planting of a million trees and has already commissioned a hatchery to breed fish for reintroduction into the river ecosystem where aquatic life was wiped out earlier this year.

The community-owned tree nursery will open in two weeks and the hatchery has already begun to breed fish in Loskop dam, Thungela CEO July Ndlovu told Mining Weekly in a Teams interview. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)

The Johannesburg- and London-listed Thungela, which this week declared a R1.4-billion interim dividend payout for its shareholders and put another R156-million into its employee trust and community partnership, also provides 20 megalitres to 25 megalitres of retreated water a day for community consumption to the City of Emalahleni.

On the renewable energy front, studies under way are assessing the economic feasibility of generating 8 MW of solar power at two collieries – 4 MW at Zibulo and 4 MW at Elders.

Mining Weekly: By our calculation, you are on your way to giving R1.5-billion to your 4 500 employees and communities since inception. To date, what are the visible benefits of this to employees and communities and how many enterprises are operating as a result of your enterprise upliftment programme?

Ndlovu: We've got to treat the Sisonke Employee Empowerment Scheme, Nkulo Community Partnership Trust and Thuthukani Enterprise and Supplier Development Programme as the three entirely different entities that they are. When it comes to employees, we pay that money to them, and they do what they want to with that money. I'm just encouraged by the stories I hear from employees as I go around the mines. I hear, for instance, about low-level employees, who as a result of the value that we've shared with them, for the very first time, being able to take their families on a holiday to Cape Town, which they would never, ever have been able to do without the scheme.

When it comes to the Nkulo Community Partnership Trust, we want the community to build flagship interventions that will outlive us. This was always going to take time but I'm glad and pleased with the work that the trustees have done and they're on the verge of beginning to put things on the ground. We will share that progress, either through our annual reports or through interviews like this one.

Then, regarding Thuthukani, I met the first 26 graduates of that enterprise development programme a month ago and I was able to hear their aspirations and see how we’re developing suppliers to our mines.

How many of the million trees targeted for planting have been planted and how will the environment benefit from your tree-planting programme?

The exact number of trees that have been planted, I can’t tell you right now, but I can report that lots and lots of trees are being planted, as we speak. This year alone, 6 000 trees had been planted when I visited Goedehoop Colliery, which is one of our mines where we have started planting the trees. The constraint in terms of our speed to plant these trees is our ability to generate the seedlings. We’ve already commissioned a community nursery to produce these trees.

When we took the decision to plant these trees, it was not for carbon offsets, but for cleaning water that is contaminated. What these trees are able to do is to absorb heavy minerals in the soils and in water that is contaminated, and fix it in the tree. For us, that’s the primary interest. Of course, there is a carbon-capture benefit and hopefully someday I can calculate what the carbon capture of a million trees is.

Are you working with the consumers of your coal to reduce your Scope 3 emissions and what will be the penalties you could suffer for not working with them?

This is an area which is developing and that's why, when we announced our climate change strategy, we focused on Scope 1 and Scope 2, because we have direct control over those. You can imagine the number of people we sell our coal to, from cement factories to direct iron reducing plants, to power plants. Clearly, this is an area where a lot more work needs to be done and this is not work that we're going to do for now, and that's why we didn't announce Scope 3.

What, in your view, should be the biggest takeaway from this interview?

The biggest takeaway should be that Thungela lives its purpose of responsibly creating value and that we share value with all our stakeholders. This is not just about dividends for shareholders; our employees and communities are also better off as a result of our activities. But, more importantly, what should also be taken away is that we're a responsible owner of assets. On restoring the environment that was damaged as a result of the spill at Kromdraai, I want you to be able to report back to society that Thungela is delivering on their promise when they said ‘we will do what is right, and we will do what it takes to restore the ecosystem’.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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