Adding Insult to Injury: The Impacts of Coal Extraction

By Glenn Ashton


Significant developments in the energy sector are underway in western Limpopo because of the extensive coal resources in that region. Besides Eskom’s massive Medupi power station, near the existing Matimba power station, there are several other mega-projects in the pipeline. The question is whether these are sustainable or in some cases, even viable.

Other developments in the area include expanding the massive Exxaro Grootgeluk mine, which supplies Matimba and Medupi, as well as Sasol’s plans for the Mafutha coal to oil mega-project, presently shelved because of its massive carbon emissions. Further to the northeast of this massive energy complex lie other coal mining projects like the controversial Coal of Africa Limited (CoAL) Makhado and Vele projects.

Against the background chatter about nationalisation and environmental sustainability, South Africa needs to carefully consider the continued development of its vast mineral resources. While our national wealth has historically been underpinned by mineral extraction, the question is not only how we can continue to extract this wealth with the broadest social benefit, but perhaps more importantly, how we can do so without destroying the very systems we rely on to sustain us.

Nowhere in South Africa are these issues more apparent than in western Limpopo, a region mired in poverty and plagued by water scarcity. The biggest single constraint to the exploitation of these coal resources is the lack of water in the region.

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