Coal known as black gold for its economic value is one of many minerals found on the African continent. It is also mined on the other continents with the biggest coal reserves found in the USA, Russia, India and China. There are approximately 890 billion tonnes of confirmed coal reserves around the world. It is estimated that these would last for 110 years
Coal is used to fuel power stations in the generation of electricity. It is also used as a fuel source to extract iron ore and in the production of cement in the iron and cement industries. Apart from the generation of electricity coal is also used for agricultural purposes in the curing of tobacco, a good substitute for firewood. In the construction industry it is used as a mixture in brick making and in the production of tar which is used in the ceiling of roads. In most parts of the continent it is used for heating and cooking.
In Africa, South Africa has the largest coal fields which are found in the Ecca deposits the biggest coal deposits in the southern hemisphere, these cover two thirds of the country. As a country South Africa produces 250 million tonnes of coal per year. 75% of this is used domestically. 80% of the country’s energy needs are taken care of by coal. While 90% of the coal consumed in Africa is produced in South Africa making the country the biggest exporter of the commodity on the continent. South Africa’s biggest companies produce 85%of its total production.
Mozambique is another coal mining country. It produces coal for domestic consumption. Though it has the prospect of earning more from its coal reserves, lack of capital and new investment dodge the country.
Botswana, Africa’s leading diamond producer recently carried out exploration for the same. The exploration revealed that the country has approximately 200 billion tonnes of coal. This will change Botswana’s economy and improve its power generation. This has become a priority development issue for the country according to government.
Zimbabwe has five coal mining companies which supply coal to the state owned Zimbabwe Power Company. The company needs 240000 tonnes of coal per month for its generation of power. Hwange Colliery is the biggest supplier of coal in the country. The company used to export its produce regional before it was put on administrative management by government for poor performance in 2018. However the company expects to boost its production in underground mining five fold after underground mining was halted inn 2016. This was caused by the breakdown of a machine known as a continuous liner. This has since been fixed and underground mining has resumed. The company expects to increase production from 10000 tonnes per month to 50000 tonnes per month. The resumption of underground mining has cost the company US$5 Million in capital equipment. In 2019 the company doubled its production to 232000 tonnes from open cast mining in the first quarter as compared to the previous year.
Government has opened up the coal industry allowing private players to come aboard. This has seen indigenous players investing in the coal industry, namely Makomo Resources and Zambezi Gas. Together these three companies are expected to supply coal to the Hwange Thermal Power Station which is expected to cut the country’s import of electricity power by 2023. This should make the country self sufficient in power and also make it a net exporter of the same. Again government has pledged to fund and support these companies. With this much abundance of coal, the region should not suffer shortages of power. The development of Botswana’s coal deposits will also add to the electricity grid of the region.
Environmentalists have condemned the mining and use of coal, blaming it for diseases such as Asthma Tuberculosis among many others. This however is overshadowed by the economical benefits of the product. In South Africa and Zimbabwe the social responsibility of the major coal companies play a pivotal role in the development of communities and in the education of their people. Apart from providing employment these companies have constructed schools, hospitals roads and many other social amenities.
Africa’s black gold for countries like Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe is the only alternative to cheap power. More effort to enhance production and to lure investors into this sector should be made. With the depletion of many resource deposits on the continent, Africa is assured of coal mining for at least the next 100 years.