Major South African mining company Exxaro Resources had based its ambitions regarding the global decarbonisation process on its realisation that its own transition process had to be inclusive, assured the group’s executive head: sustainability, Mongezi Veti. He was participating in a panel discussion at the Investing in African Mining Indaba 2023, in Cape Town, on Wednesday. Exxaro was originally, and remained predominantly, a coal miner, although it was diversifying its portfolio, including owning two wind-power complexes (with a total generating capacity of 239 MW).
The company had a strong entrepreneurship programme for the communities around its operations. This was to ensure that no-one was left behind in the transition to greener energies and a circular economy. Indeed, the company was taking the circular economy into account in its development of these local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). For example, Exxaro was funding a feasibility study for an SME regarding the collection of waste from local communities and using this waste to generate profits. The group was also working with other SMEs, to allow them to extract value from materials that the miners had traditionally regarded as discards.
The company also owned a lot of land. So, it had started a programme to transform that land in order to establish SME farmers, he reported. He called it ‘liberating the land’. Exxaro had leased some 3 000 ha to five farmers and these farms – some with crops, some with livestock – were thriving. The miner lent money to the farmers (through a third party which had the necessary financial licences), and the success of the farms had meant that these loans were being repaid, allowing the assigned money to be recycled into other SME development projects.
“It has worked for us,” affirmed Veti. “To change the image of mining, we have to liberate the land.”
Similarly, Exxaro owned and operated a game farm. They were using this to provide training to new Rangers from Mozambique, creating jobs in a neighbouring country and strengthening its nature protection capability, thereby allowing the reintroduction of animal species wiped out during the long Mozambican Civil War (1977-1992).
Promoting biodiversity, as Exxaro was doing, was a huge opportunity for carbon sequestration, highlighted just and sustainable minerals industry consultancy Levin Sources’ founder and CEO Estelle Levin-Nally, during the same panel discussion. “It’s a really important opportunity,” she affirmed. This applied to both flora and fauna. She pointed out that deforestation was responsible for 33% of all carbon emissions, and mining was responsible for 33% of all deforestation.
“We have a real opportunity to make a difference,” affirmed De Beers Group head of carbon nutrality Kirsten Hund. She noted that the diamond miner also owned a lot of land. And she cited one of its biodiversity programmes – the planting of kelp along the Namibian coast. This was strengthening conservation and bringing ecological benefits. It even brought social benefits, as the experts implementing the programme had been teaching local children how to swim, which had never been done before.
Implementation of such ‘nature-based solutions’ was a “huge opportunity” for the mining sector, stressed metals trading house Gerald Group Global Head of Sustainability & ESG Daniele la Porta, both for conservation and carbon sequestration. The problem was that there was increasing pressure on the industry to report its environmental, social and governance impacts, and to do so with hard data. But it was difficult to obtain this data from nature-based solutions. Work was, however, being done to develop methods to do this.