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More Buck, Less Cooling :Africa Re-Thinks Its Mines

Reporting from Capetown- Away from the sparkling shores of Capetown’s magnificent beaches, within a small radius of just about six kilometres between Green Point and Woodstock, contrasting outcomes for the future of mining in Africa are being constructed.

Since Monday, at Capetown International Convention Centre (CICC), mining chief executives, ministers, big capital investors and regional presidents are seeking mutually beneficial ways to bring more capital into Africa’s rich extractives sector and improve GDP and FDI figures at the 2020 African Mining Indaba.

But across town, just a stone-throw away, behind Capetown train station at Double Tree By Hilton hotel -another seating takes place- the Alternative Mining Indaba, where civic society leaders from the across the African continent, faith based organisations and community leaders are in turn plotting robust action against what they say is a complete disregard of communities and the environment by the grouping at CICC when issuing mineral concessions to investors.

Here they say communities should have their voices included in the granting of mining operations, more so in the wake of vagaries of climate change caused by the companies activities.

Mining operations across the continent, Zimbabwe included, nomatter how lucrative have often brought problems.

There are always competing needs between local communities and big mining corporations.

Issues such as competition for land and water not excluding the scourge of air pollution from mining activities have often seen governments overlook community interests in favor of mineral Investment.

Climate change is evidently upon us, and communities are more environmentally conscious than before and are now critical of miners activities in their areas.

The Alternative Mining Indaba saw delegates call for either a commitment in the reduction of toxic gas emissions or the complete closure of fossil mining of coal.

“We have got to stop mining coal. Lets stop burning fossils,” Bishop Geoff Davies of the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) said in his opening remarks at the Alternatives Mining Indaba.

The civic society groups spoke in unison against the carbon emissions set into the atmosphere through various mining activities while promoting advocacy for alternatives.

“Communities should have a voice to say No. The mining activities of coal are causing adverse effects on the environment and this has been the case for years yet we governments continue to make plans for more coal projects,” another speaker voiced.

Despite Africa contributing just around 10 percent of global carbon emissions, there is a growing call for the continent to also commit to its pledges to reduce its share of pollution and mitigate climate change effects.

However, while the Bishop was making a clarion call for the end of coal mining, across town, South Africa’s mines minister, Gwede Montashe in a desperate attempt to rescue both the deteriorating energy situation in Africa’ s most mechanised economy and also to lure big capital into S.A granted all mining companies in the country the greenlight to generate electricity for self-use without any form of licensing from government.

For the alternative indaba grouping, this presented a huge problem in the fight against carbon emissions.

To bring perspective, 77 percent of South Africa’s electricity comes from its massive coal deposits and in the absence of licensing how is South Africa going to control fossil powered electricity generation.

“South African miners plan power projects to generate about 1.5 gigawatts of energy within about nine- 36 months,” Roger Baxter, chief executive officer of the Minerals Council of South Africa told investors.

Narrowing the issue further to home, Zimbabwe is apparently going on with its plans to set more coal projects.

In fact work on the expansion of its Hwange Thermal Power Station is taking shape and little is being done to explore cleaner sources of energy at a larger scale.

The US 1.5 billion Hwange Thermal project is an expansion of two power generation units 7 and 8 expected to produce 600 MW upon completion in 2022.

Environmental experts are skeptical of Zimbabwe government’s sincerity in reducing its emissions.

Zimbabwe made emission-cut pledges under the international Paris agreement but it is seemingly reluctant to honour its commitments.

The biggest question once coal mining has been stopped is how economies are going to replenish the jobs lost from the closure of coal companies and what other alternatives are available in terms of power generation outside coal.

What will be the overall knock down effect on the economy?- are some of the questions thrown around by critics to this hypothesis.

“400 000 new jobs have been created in renewable energy in German since it started slowing down on its coal power generation,” Bishop Davies reigned in.

“There has to be some form of compensation to the workers who are left vulnerable.Unfortunately the focus is on how governments can compensate the companies,” another participant stressed.

There are immense opportunities African countries can tap into for alternative energy production.

However, more positively, even big multinational companies in the extractives sector are gradually seeing the light.

One of the region’s biggest miners, Anglo-America, chief executive, Mark Cutifani believes now its the time to redefine mining.

“We have to re-imagine mining to improve people’s lives,” he said while stressing that the company intends to introduce a hydro- powered truck this year as part of its efforts to mitigate carbon emissions.

“We will have the first hydrogen powered truck in one of our mines this year,” he said.

But as the debate rages on, the more complex issues become.

Africa is found wanting. Anglo-America ‘s Cutifani said, “We want to mine in Africa, we do this according to your laws and currently we haven’t broken any laws so its up to the local communities and governments to work together and craft legislation that tells us how to conduct ourselves in the best of your interests when doing our operations,”

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