The country’s coal reserves are mainly bituminous, with a relatively high ash content of about 45%, and low sulphur content of about 1%. South Africa’s recoverable coal reserves, estimated at 54.6 billion short tons (Bst), are the world’s seventh largest, representing approximately 5% of the world reserves. The South African Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs (DME) began a national study to reassess the country’s coal reserves which was expected to be completed by the end of 2003. The DME’s Discards Inventory was completed in 2002. The inventory tracks the discard or ‘waste’ coal from current and former coal operations in the country by size, location and quality. As much as one Bt of discard coal, which is South Africa’s largest source of industrial waste, is on the surface in South Africa.
According to a study published by the World Energy Council of 2001, commercially mineable hard coal reserves in South Africa amount to 49.5 Bt. More cautious assessments now put the quantity at only 34.4 Bt, if extraction continues rising beyond the current level. Some of the best-quality deposits are the Witbank, Highveld, Ermelo and KwaZulu. In 2009, South Africa’s hard coal production totalled 245.17 million tonnes (Mt) coal. Some 184.71 Mt was for domestic consumption.
Africa has been organised by landowner mining, that is, mining rights have remained with the owner of the land. State control merely took the form of a statutory approval procedure and mining supervision, so that no royalty had to be paid to the state. Wide areas of land are owned by big mining companies, and this is also true of the country’s coal deposits. Thus the government is gradually introducing profound change in this sector. The government and mining companies agreed on new draft mining laws under which, all of the country’s natural resources are transferred to state ownership. Present and future mining companies must re-apply for their mining rights, the issue of which is to be associated with statutory stipulations; deposits which are not exploited at present or whose short-term exploitation has not been applied for by the landowner can now be granted to other interested parties.