TSHWANE (miningweekly.com) – Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe has defended the role of coal in the country's energy mix and complained about the harmful effect of high electricity prices on the local beneficiation of minerals. He was delivering the keynote address at the launch, in Pretoria, of a book – The Future of Mining in South Africa: Sunset or Sunrise – by the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection. He stated that he was discussing these issues with his colleague, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe.
"South Africa – what a strange nation," he exclaimed. He affirmed that South Africans "like to destroy what they have" in the hope of better things to come. They wanted to shut coal mines now, "for a better future".
While accepting that renewable energy will be important in the future, he highlighted that national electricity utility Eskom generated electricity at its Koeberg nuclear power plant for some 40c a unit, and that its coal-fired power plants did so at about 80c a unit, but it was buying renewable energy from independent power producers at around 220c a unit. He affirmed that it made no sense to spend 220c on a unit of electricity when you could spend 40c and 80c.
Coal was needed now, he stated, for base load electricity. He highlighted that there had been a major new coal discovery in the Springbok Flats, with seams about 9 m thick. But South Africans were hypocritical about coal. They were hostile to it, until there was load-shedding, whereupon they wanted to know where the coal was.
The increase in electricity prices had undermined the country's mineral beneficiation ambitions. He cited the case of manganese. "Our Black Iron is in demand everywhere. But we can't beneficiate it here .... [B]ecause our electricity prices are prohibitively high," he asserted. "Those electricity prices make beneficiation a dream."