Coal in South Africa

South Africa coal production (red) and exports (black)

South Africa produces in excess of 255 million tonnes of coal (2011 estimate)[1] and consumes almost three quarters of that domestically.[2] Around 77% of South Africa's energy needs are directly derived from coal[3] and 92% of coal consumed on the African continent is produced in South Africa.[4]

The use of coal in South Africa dates back to the iron age (300–1880 AD), when charcoal was used to melt iron and copper, but large-scale exploitation of coal did not occur until the mid-19th century.[5]


The surface exposure of the rocks belonging to the Karoo Supergroup. South Africa's coal occurs in the Ecca group (coloured mustard yellow). These rocks were deposited in a vast inland lake or sea, when Africa was part of Gondwana. It was only along the northern and north-eastern shores of this body of water where marshes formed peat, and eventually turned into coal.

South African Reserves by Coalfields[6]

  Highveld (31%)
  Witbank (30%)
  Ermelo (13.8%)
  Waterberg (11%)
  Vrg. -Sasolburg (6%)
  South Rand (2%)
  Utrecht (2%)
  Klipriver (1.9%)
  Soutpansberg (1%)
  Other (1.3%)
Coal reserves in BTUs as of 2009

The largest coal deposits in South Africa are to be found in the Ecca deposits, a stratum of the Karoo Supergroup, dating from the Permian period, between 280 and 250 Ma. The Ecca Group is extensive, covering around two thirds of South Africa (much of it covered by slightly younger rocks - see diagram on the left). Only the northern and north-eastern portion of these Ecca deposits is coal-bearing, but it nevertheless contains more than a third of all coal reserves in the Southern Hemisphere.[6][7]

Notable coalfields are:

Economic impact

South Africa is one of the seven largest coal-producing[6][9] and one of the top five coal-exporting[3] countries in the world.

More than a quarter of coal mined in South Africa is exported, most of which leaves the country via Richards Bay.[3] Coal is South Africa's third largest source of foreign exchange; platinum being the largest and gold second.[10] Around 15% of the country's GDP (2000 estimate) is spent on energy[10] and 77% of that is derived from coal.[3]

In 2004, the coal and lignite mining industry generated a gross income of R39 billion and directly employed 50,000 people.[11]

The Witbank Coalfield accounts for 40% of South Africa's coal production.[12]


The five largest coal mining companies account for around 85% of all production. They are Anglo American plc, South32's South Africa Energy Coal,[13] Sasol Mining, Glencore Xstrata, and Exxaro .[3]

Open-pit mining account for roughly half of South African coal mining operations, the other half being sub-surface.[3]

Coal consumption

Electricity generation

Electricity generation accounts for 43% of all coal consumed in South Africa (1997 estimate).[10]

Many of the country's coal-fired power station are located in close proximity to a coal mine and are supplied with fuel directly from the mine. The Grootegeluk open cast mine on the Waterberg Coalfield in Limpopo is one of the largest in the country and feeds the Matimba Power Station[14] with about 14.6 million tons of coal a year[15] via a conveyor system.[16] The mine is also contracted to supply the new Medupi Power Station.[15]

Liquid fuel

See also: Coal liquefaction and Sasol

Around 35% of liquid fuel used in South Africa is derived from coal mined by Sasol Mining at the Secunda CTL plants.[4][17][18]

Household use

In 1995 around a million lower-income households in South Africa depended on coal as their primary energy source for cooking, lighting and heating.[19] This number has been decreasing steadily during the first decade of the 21st century due to the expansion of electricity supply to lower-income households and rural regions.[20]

Environmental impact

Environmentalists in South Africa and abroad have criticized the decision of the World Bank's approval for a $3.75 billion loan to build the world’s fourth-largest coal-fired power in South Africa. The plant will increase the demand for coal mining and production. Protesters are urging the bank to stop supporting the development of coal plants and other large emitters of greenhouse gas and polluting operations from coal mining.[21]

Usage of coal and liquid fuel derived from coal accounts for around 86% of the 113 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions South Africa produces annually (2006 estimate)[22] and represents around 40% of Africa's total coal derived CO2 emissions.[23]

The largest contributor to coal-derived air pollution is household coal usage (65%), followed by industry (30%) and electricity generation (5%).[24]

Some coal mines have been abandoned by their owners, mainly due to companies ceasing to exist. Many of these mines, such as the Transvaal and Delagoa Bay Collieries (T&DB) outside Witbank, have not been rehabilitated prior to being abandoned and are a major source of water and air pollution. It is estimated that clean-up and rehabilitation of the T&DB Collieries will cost around R100 million.[25] Coal seam fires were common, but controlled, at T&DB Collieries during the mine's operation, but the fires have been left to burn out of control since the mine was closed in 1953, to the extent that in 1995 flames could be seen above ground.[26]

See also



  1. "BP Statistical review of world energy 2012". British Petroleum. Archived from the original (XLS) on 19 June 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  2. "Production and consumption of coal (2003 estimates)" (in Planete Energies). Retrieved 14 January 2010.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Coal". Department of Energy (South Africa). Retrieved 8 January 2010.
  4. 1 2 "International Energy Outlook 2009, Chapter 4 - Coal". Energy Information Administration. 27 May 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2010.
  5. "Draft EIR Bravo 5" (PDF). Eskom. p. 83. Retrieved 14 January 2010.
  6. 1 2 3 Schmidt, Stephan. "Coal deposits of South Africa - the future of coal mining in South Africa" (PDF). Institute for Geology, Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg. Retrieved 14 January 2010.
  7. Schlüter & Trauth 2006, p. 214
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "About SA coalfields". Keaton Energy. Archived from the original on 14 June 2009. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  9. "Coal Mining". World Coal Institute. Retrieved 14 January 2010.
  10. 1 2 3 "HOW ENERGY GENERATION CAUSES ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE IN SOUTH AFRICA". Department of Environmental Affairs (South Africa). Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  11. "Mining industry 2004" (PDF). Statistics South Africa. 2004. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  12. Schlüter & Trauth 2006, p. 216
  13. "South32 - South Africa Energy Coal".
  14. "EI, Grootgeluk Coal Mine move to electronic knowledge management". Aardvark Communication. 20 June 2003. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  15. 1 2 "Mine to double its coal sales to Eskom". Business Report. 2 April 2007. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  16. "MINING AND INDUSTRY". Lephalale Local Municipality. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  17. "Preliminary study on Sasol fuel plant due in 2008 - CEO". Engineering News (Creamer Media). 8 November 2007. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  18. "Sasol orders new reactor as part of Synfuels expansion to meet SA growing demand for fuel". Sasol. 18 November 2007. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  19. "Social Impacts on the Environment: # 1". Department of Environmental Affairs (South Africa). Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  20. "Household energy source". Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (South Africa). Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  21. World Bank approves coal plant is South Africa 9 April 2010 Democracy Now!
  22. "Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions from South Africa" (in Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center). Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  23. "Carbon dioxide emissions". Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (South Africa). Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  24. Balmer, M (August 2007). "Household coal use in an urban township in South Africa" (PDF). Journal of Energy in South Africa. Energy Research Institute. 18 (3). Retrieved 2010-01-15.
  25. "The True Cost of Coal" (PDF). Greenpeace. p. 53. Retrieved 16 January 2010.
  26. Limpitlaw; Aken, Lodewijks & Viljoen (13 July 2005). "Sustainable Development in the life of coal mining in South Africa" (PDF). The South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. p. 3. Retrieved 16 January 2010.


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