• Share

Mining with Principles at Wonderfontein Colliery

As the suppliers of the minerals and metals that are critical to decarbonisation and sustainable development, the mining and metals industry has a particular responsibility to minimise the impact of its operations on the environment.

Mpumalanga is at the centre of power generation in South Africa, providing more than 80% of South Africa’s coal resources. After mining and quarrying – which accounts for 29.8% of provincial GDP – manufacturing, power generation, tourism and agriculture are the province’s other major industries.

Local communities are highly dependent on mining operations as the primary economic driver, both directly as a source of employment and indirectly through local development and services provided. In the coming decades, many of these mines will close, and with a population of 4.67 million people, transitioning the economy to other viable industries is of critical importance to sustainable economic development and creating community resilience.

In the Mpumalanga region, large portions of arable land are located near sources of mine-impacted water. If this water could be utilised for agriculture, it would limit the collection and distribution costs for local farming. Owing to the substantial treatment costs mines face, this alternative water utilisation option has a benefit of treatment cost savings, as well as creating employment and empowering the local community through the production of mine-water irrigated crops.

The Mpumalanga Winter Wheat Pilot is a collaborative initiative implemented by ICMM, Glencore, Impact Catalyst and Business for Development to investigate whether rehabilitated mined land and mine-impacted water offer sustainable livelihood opportunities for local communities.

The pilot was implemented between April 2021 and January 2022 and included rehabilitated coal mining land at the Umsimbithi-owned Wonderfontein mine and nearby community land. The pilot has had promising results with crops using mine impacted water offering higher yields than those planted on virgin soil. The first crop was harvested in November last year and has shown the grain to be in compliance with World Health Organisation and South African food safety standards.

The promising results offer hope for a just transition for the communities in the coal heartland of Mpumalanga that are highly dependent on mining operations and power plants and stand to be adversely impacted in the global transition away from fossil fuels in favour of cleaner energy.

The pilot provides a great example of how through careful planning and collaboration of key stakeholders, mine closure can bring new opportunities for leaving behind a positive social and environmental legacy.