Friday, February 29, 2008

Coal sector of South Africa

Coal is the primary fuel produced and consumed in South Africa and is one of the country's largest sources of foreign exchange. Coal reserves constitute 5.4% of the world’s reserves, all hard coal, with no lignite.

The coal mining sector has become the second largest component of the South African mining sector with annual coal sales higher than gold.

The country's coal reserves are mainly bituminous, with a relatively high ash content of about 45%, and low sulphur content of about 1%. South Africa's recoverable coal reserves, estimated at 54.6 billion short tons (Bst), are the world's seventh largest, representing approximately 5% of the world reserves.

South Africa’s hard coal is classified as so-called ‘Gondwana’ coal, comparatively rich in ash and must be prepared, at least for exporting. This coal has limited, if any, coking properties and to that extent, is low to medium volatile at 16–29%. It is relatively (<>

Africa has been organised by landowner mining, that is, mining rights have remained with the owner of the land. State control merely took the form of a statutory approval procedure and mining supervision, so that no royalty had to be paid to the state. Wide areas of land are owned by big mining companies, and this is also true of the country’s coal deposits. In the meantime, the government is aiming at profound change in this sector. The government and mining companies recently agreed a new draft on mining laws under which, all of the country’s natural resources are transferred to state ownership. Present and future mining companies must re-apply for their mining rights, the issue of which is to be associated with statutory stipulations; deposits which are not exploited at present or whose short-term exploitation has not been applied for by the landowner can now be granted to other interested parties.

The idea is to remove the frequently occurring decade-old blockage of unused natural resources on the part of landowners, and to provide fresh mining and employment.

There are 11 coalfields in all, extending across 19 regions from the border with Botswana in the Northern Province, via the provinces Gauteng, Mpumalanga, and Freestate, to KwaZulu-Natal in the Southeast, with 83% of the reserves concentrated in the mining areas of Witbank, Highveld, Vereeniging/Sasolburg, Ermelo and Waterberg. While the first four mining areas are relatively close to the coast of the Indian Ocean, namely, just under 600 km by rail; the distance from the Waterberg area, located at the Botswana border, doubles to 1,120 km.

Among the chief mining regions are Witbank, Highveld, Vereeniging/Sasolburg, Ermelo and Waterberg, areas with a current 98% share in total output. In 2001, the total 77 collieries operated 66 underground mines and 37 opencast pits. They mined 54% or 124 Mt of total underground output and 46% or 104 Mt in surface operations. The opencast pits reach depths down to 60 m, with maximum of five seams, though only two–three are usually suitable for dragline operations, which account for two-thirds of opencast pit output. Truck and shovel mining, by contrast, is mainly used in the multi-seam mining area of Waterberg. Deposit sections whose mining in opencast pits is uneconomical are often exploited in underground mines. The flat seams lend themselves to extraction at depths of hardly more than 200 m.

The mining technique deployed here is board and pillar, which accounts for over 90% of underground mine production, while long walling is only used in exceptional cases. In board and pillar operations, coal extraction is dominated by the continuous miner, but mechanised drilling and blasting, too, are still used occasionally.


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