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The minister of mineral resources and energy has long defended South Africa’s continued use of coal

“Everyone is telling us to get out of coal but they are still demanding coal from us.” These were the words of Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe at the 2022 Investing in African Mining Indaba recently.

He told a news conference on the sidelines of the annual mining conference that his department was looking into clean coal technology, but added: “Clean coal technology doesn’t just fall from the sky, you experiment with it.” 

Mantashe said the move to clean coal technology would give South Africa an advantage, especially with a surge in coal prices. The commodity is seeing a spike in demand because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has affected global supply. 

“With the record prices of coal we would have loved to mine as much coal as we can and export it to Europe. Europe tells us to get out of coal yet they are ordering big volumes of coal and we would like to give them the coal and harvest the right price of coal that is prevailing,” Mantashe said. 

The minister, who has in the past called himself a coal fundamentalist, bemoaned the influence of the West.

“As a small economy we are used to being a conduit of bigger economies. With Europe having labelled gas and nuclear as part of the green transition, I can tell you with my eyes closed that many of the lobbies in South Africa will follow suit,” he said.

The department of mineral resources has said some of national utility Eskom’s coal-powered plants will reach their lifespan between now and 2050. 

“So, as we are transitioning, we want to make sure we use what we call an energy mix and coal will be part of an energy mix. Coal is going to be part of an energy mix where some of the power plants will be converted to renewable plants and hydrogen plants,” Mantashe said. 

In his welcome address to the Mining Indaba earlier on Monday, Mantashe said the universal access to energy and the just energy transition would not only enable the improvement of lives and livelihoods of Africans, but would also boost economic activity and, by extension, mining activity. 

“The just transition to a low-carbon future will require ‘green metals’ to which Africa has an abundance of untapped resources such as lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel, and zinc. There is no doubt that the transition will drive demand for these minerals,” he said. 

The transition will be driven by catalytic converters, which require platinum group metals (PGM), used by vehicle manufacturers to reduce or neutralise harmful pollutants from exhaust emissions, Mantashe added.

South Africa accounts for the largest percentage of the world’s Platinum Group Metals’ reserves with neighbouring Zimbabwe ranking third. 

“This will ensure that both countries play a crucial role in the world’s emerging energy transition,” Mantashe said.