JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) − Coal plays an integral part in South Africa's energy mix and this will not change for many years to come.
Speakers participating in a discussion during the second day of the Joburg Indaba on October 8, suggested that the country should, therefore, focus on adopting cleaner ways of coal mining and generating coal-fired power.
The speakers emphasised that coal mining was essential to South Africa, creating direct and indirect jobs, uplifting surrounding communities and contributing significantly to the country’s economy.
Anglo American Coal South Africa CEO July Ndlovu said coal had become a commodity that South Africans love to hate, but could not wish away.
He said coal tended to be perceived as only useful as fuel in power generation, yet, it was a commodity that supports significant parts of human development, including in steelmaking and cement.
He noted that coal would remain a significant part of the country’s energy generation for a while to come, given that it was abundant, affordable and easy to use.
He acknowledged that there would be an energy transition in the country, but noted that the debates around coal generation in the interim should be centred on innovations in pursuing cleaner coal, rather than dismissing it entirely.
Menar chairperson Mpumelelo Mkhabela also emphasised the importance of coal to the country, noting that it supplied more that 95% of South Africa's energy needs.
He said people had to understand the value of coal within the country, so that in pursuing a just transition, every person currently benefitting from coal use can be accommodated for.
Exxaro Resources minerals MD Dr Nombasa Tsengwa, meanwhile, said South Africa had to go through the transition at a pace that was appropriate to the country, in a responsible manner.
She called for a move away from emotional conversations around the coal story in the country, and especially away from "jumping on international bandwagons that are not applicable to the country’s unique circumstance" on this issue.
She said the South African energy story was not the same as the European one, therefore, the country could not use the methods used in Europe as an exact blueprint in its energy transition.
She, too, called for discussions around how to mine coal responsibly and emphasised that partnerships with government and other stakeholders in the energy sector would be critical to ensuring a smooth just transition.