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Sustainable Mining Advocacy: Repurposing Strategies for Closed Mines

Bench Marks Foundation Highlights Need for Transition Planning in Mining

by Adenike Adeodun

At the 2023 Annual Consultative Conference and Inaugural Mining Skills Lekgotla in Boksburg, David van Wyk, Chief Researcher at the Bench Marks Foundation, highlighted a significant gap in the Mining Qualifications Authority’s (MQA) training. His primary concern was preparing for mine closures and the revitalization of declining mining towns.

Van Wyk stressed the urgent need for plans that encompass both concurrent and post-mining economies. He suggested that the MQA should focus on assisting in the repurposing of old mines and related infrastructure like offices, workshops, training facilities, sports and recreation facilities, and electricity substations. This strategy aims at job creation, sustaining, and reviving mining communities.

A key aspect of this plan involves defining the role of local government in managing mine closures and supporting mining towns and communities beyond the operational life of mines. Strengthening local governments in these areas could lead to better outcomes for all involved.

Moreover, Van Wyk emphasized the importance of establishing connections between unions and communities. Conducting infrastructure and skills audits in mining towns is vital. These audits can lay the groundwork for setting up community cooperatives and business units. Such initiatives could enable communities to adapt to mine closures by repurposing infrastructure, thus ensuring their sustainability.

“Small business units could focus on artisanal mining and mineral beneficiation,” Van Wyk explained.

He pointed out the recent retrenchment of approximately 34,000 mineworkers. With limited skills outside of mining and a concurrent lack of job opportunities in their home regions, many of these workers might turn to illegal mining or occupy abandoned mines.

“A just transition to post-mining economics could retain many of these jobs,” Van Wyk argued, underscoring the need for economic development in areas that traditionally supply labor to mines.

Innovation is critical in this transition. Van Wyk proposed replacing asbestos roofs in mining townships with solar panels. These could connect to mining substations nearby, feeding electricity into the national grid. This approach not only promotes cleaner energy but also provides a potential income source for indigent households by selling electricity back to the grid.

While mines are increasingly adopting solar power, Van Wyk noted that these projects often exclude local communities. “Incorporating communities in these initiatives is vital for a just transition in energy,” he said.

Van Wyk also proposed repurposing old mines for energy generation, including geothermal, solar, and gravitational energy.

Additionally, he criticized labor broking and subcontracting practices for compromising health and safety standards and complicating worker training, ultimately undermining mine health and safety.

According to a report by Mining Weekly, the Bench Marks Foundation trains community monitors to oversee the relationship between mines and the communities and environment they impact. “Regular reporting by these monitors could preempt disasters and mitigate conflicts,” Van Wyk suggested.

In conclusion, Van Wyk’s insights at the conference call for a comprehensive approach to managing mine closures and sustaining mining towns, emphasizing the need for strategic planning, community involvement, and innovative solutions to ensure a sustainable future for mining regions.

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