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UCT research team develops ‘new set of tools’ to support mine closure planning in South Africa

5th April 2024

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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A new set of tools aimed at assisting in responsible and sustainable mine closures across South Africa has been developed by a University of Cape Town (UCT) research team through a Water Research Commission (WRC) project.

Useful for governments, industry, civil society, academia and international agencies, the novel tools support mine closure planning, management and policymaking.

Worldwide, mine closures are a growing concern, owing to the associated environmental and social impacts, particularly for countries such as South Africa, which is economically dependent on mining – with about 230 operating mines, including coal, platinum and chrome mines, located in diverse natural and social settings – but are impacted on by closed and abandoned mines.

Closed and abandoned mines have had devastating impacts on surrounding communities, scarce water resources and the environment.

“Despite the existence of global best practice guidelines and local legislation, mine closure remains a complex challenge in South Africa,” says UCT project leader and principal researcher Dr Megan Cole.

While there are over six- million people living in urban and rural mining host communities who are likely to be significantly affected by mine closures, only a limited number of mines have been issued closure certificates or have successfully progressed into clearly defined post-closure land uses.

“Mine closure risks and opportunities are site specific, affecting different communities to varying degrees, at different times and in distinctive ways, depending on factors such as water resources, land capability, socioeconomic profiles, economic diversity, public infrastructure and access to markets,” Cole explains.

“Given these complexities, national government, local government and other stakeholders need guidance in identifying high-risk areas and suitable post- closure interventions to mitigate these risks on a case-by-case basis.”

The latest study by the WRC, which has funded research into mining and water-related matters since the early seventies, produced three novel tools for mine closure, namely a Mine Closure Risk Rating System, a Post-Closure Opportunities Framework and a Mine Closure Risk and Opportunity Atlas.

The Mine Closure Risk Rating System defines a methodology and produces results for calculating comparative mine closure risk ratings across all operating mines, with the results visualised in GIS and the map identifying mines and areas where mine closure is highly likely and needs immediate attention.

It further ranks mines by environmental and social risk, enabling the prioritisation of mitigation and intervention by mining companies and government.

The Post-Closure Opportunities Framework, meanwhile, provides a defined process for identifying the most suitable options for sustainable development and economic diversification based on a participatory process that involves reviewing all possible alternatives and testing them against environmental, social, economic and governance criteria.

The third tool, a freely available interactive online GIS tool, the Mine Closure Risk and Opportunity Atlas, supports the other two tools and was developed with input from experts in the mining industry and potential stakeholders of mine closure to communicate mine closure risks to a wide audience and to enable stakeholders to interrogate the risks and opportunities related to mine closure.

The Atlas incorporates a comprehensive spatial database of over 65 datasets covering operating mines, processing plants, mining host communities, land, water, energy, biodiversity, infrastructure and economic, social and governance factors, explains Cole, noting that users can conduct their own analyses and assessments using these datasets.

“Its presentation of risk for individual operating mines is unique. The atlas has been configurated to function on smartphones as well as computers to ensure that affected mining communities have access to all the information presented in it.”

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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