Johannesburg – A year late, the Coal of Africa [JSE:CZA] (CoAL) Vele
Mine near Musina last week produced its first coal for the export market in one
of the country’s most ecologically sensitive areas.
The development of this mine, which will produce
exceptionally valuable semisoft metallurgical coal, was brought to a halt for
14 months by the departments of environmental affairs and water – which has to
date been the most serious clash between a mine, environmental authorities and
An exploration pit which in September 2010 caused the
Department of Environmental Affairs to issue an order suspending all
developmental activity in the mine, is now a fully fledged opencast pit
exposing the rich coal seam.
It is no small achievement for CoAL to have eventually
brought the mine to production – less than half a year after all the regulatory
elements were awarded.
This makes Vele the country's first mine that fully complies
with the requirements of the National Environmental Management Act – a piece of
legislation that has so far been in the middle of a tug-of-war between three
state departments with jurisdiction over the mining industry.
Apart from the regulatory requirements, CoAL was obliged to
give outside parties the right to decide on environmental management on the
To that end CoAL entered into an agreement with the
Department of Environmental Affairs and with South African National Parks
(SANparks) to ensure that the neighbouring Mapungubwe World Heritage Site
The agreement obliges CoAL to establish an independent
environmental management committee chaired by SANparks, and on which
non-governmental organisations also have a seat.
The most important opposition group, the Save Mapungubwe
Coalition, was with considerable effort eventually persuaded to participate.
The representatives in the community come from the three
state departments involved, non-governmental organisations, municipalities and
The environmental management committee is a watchdog to
ensure that CoAL complies with the environmental requirements to which it and
the other parties have agreed.
CoAL would be unwise not to repeat this formula at its
Makhado Mine, which is receiving almost as much opposition from Limpopo
One of the undertakings that CoAL has given is that the
mine’s footprint – the size of the pit – will never be more than 50ha.
CoAL’s chief executive John Wallington says that they are
operating the mine while applying continuous rehabilitation. When a portion of
the open pit has been exhausted, it is immediately rehabilitated. It will not
remain in that condition until the end of the mine’s life.
But CoAL will exploit a small portion of Vele for opencast
mining. Another portion west of the existing open pit will be similarly
developed, but within five years the shallower portions of the seam will be
exhausted and underground mining will commence. By far most of the reserve is
too deep for opencast mining.
Further commitments given by CoAL are that the height of
processing plants will not exceed 20m, that the colours of these plants will
harmonise with the environment and that there will be effective dust control.
The Vele Mine will initially deliver only about 1m tonnes of
coking coal for the metallurgical industry out of the overall production of
2.7m tonnes a year, but the mine is designed to be able to produce 5m tonnes of
coking coal a year.
The infrastructure and freight handling capacity will
however need to be improved before this can happen.
On Tuesday Vele’s management loaded the first 30 rail trucks
with around 1 500 tonnes of coal.
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