Prior to and since our visit to the Phlanndwa colliery on the outskirts of Delmas in Mpumalanga, I had been considering the fuel’s sustainability and future in South Africa and other developing countries fighting for their place among the industrialised nations

Coal’s reputation globally appears to be at an all-time low, as countries move towards less environmentally harmful energy options. The International Energy Agency says that coal production has been steadily falling worldwide

South Africa’s Minerals Council says that the country generates more than 70 percent of its electricity from coal and the industry is responsible for employing over 82, 000 people, a 17 % contribution of total employment in the mining sector in 2017.

As we got closer to the, owned by the Canyon coal company, I was struck by the vast open, predominantly farm land. On the doorstep of the mine was a small informal settlement with shacks, many of them decked with satellite dishes.

We would later be told that the electricity accessibility in the surrounding town was partly made possible by the miner, which has been providing 100 households with free electricity since December 2017.

“A lot of the dishes started to go up soon after we installed the electricity,” said Alan Mabbett, General Manager of the colliery.

However, we were told that the mine’s relationship with the local community is was, as unemployment and job scarcity have caused frustration by some in the community seeking opportunities, a reflection of a country grappling with skills shortages and unemployment of 27 percent.

As South African heavily energy-reliant industry seeks to rejuvenate itself, the coal industry remains a leading energy provider and employer, coal looks set to remains king, at least locally, for the foreseeable future.

By Patricia Aruo

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