Minerals and Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe, says South Africa’s rich deposit of minerals required in the production of renewable energy sources is a big boon for the mining industry.
He was speaking on Tuesday at the North West Mining Investment Conference held in Rustenburg.
The North West province, in particular, is estimated to have at least half of the world’s Platinum Metal Groups and rare earth minerals – also called minerals of the future – critical in the production of clean energy sources such as wind turbines, batteries, magnets, and even pv solar panels.
“Most of these [rare earth] minerals are going to be in high demand as we transition from high carbon to low carbon emissions [and] the minerals that we require to transition are in this [North West] province. These are the minerals that we call minerals of the future,” Mantashe said.
Turning to the country’s transition from high to low carbon emissions, the Minister said the country must ensure there is energy security, while carrying out its commitments to lowering carbon emissions.
“As we continue to mobilise investments in our economy in line with the economic reconstruction and recovery plan, we are mindful of the risks associated with energy poverty and climate change realities.
“If we are going to deal with climate change, there must be security of energy supply, then we can navigate the transition more systematically and in a structured way. But if there is energy poverty; there are still about 13% of South Africans who have no access to energy. We must deal with that, as we deal with coming down from high carbon emission to low carbon emission,” Mantashe said.
He said communities may not be keen to support the just energy transition if key issues of reliable energy supply are not first addressed.
“If we ignore the poverty, we will introduce programmes to address climate change and we [will] face a revolt. Our message will not reach our people. Our people want to access energy – affordable, sustainable, dependable [energy]. Then we can talk about how we clean it.
“But if we don’t have access to energy, we have no choice,” he said.
The Minister said as a sector, mining can contribute to the transition itself because of the minerals required to produce some clean energy sources.
Mantashe said the North West, Limpopo and the Northern Cape have the potential to become the country’s mining hubs.
“Northern Cape, North West and Limpopo is the corridor of future mining. We believe that these three provinces can be developed into the mining headquarters of the country. Hence, we took a deliberate decision to convene these Investment Conference, in collaboration with these provincial governments.
“Our decision [to focus on these three provinces] takes nothing away from the significant role that can still be played by Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Free State,” he said.
The Minister reiterated that the country’s mining industry – which has contributed significantly to the country’s Growth Domestic Product during tough economic times – still remains a key cog in recovering from the economic harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“South Africa is endowed with vast mineral resources, which we must continue to exploit to grow our economy. We continue to encourage increased exploration of these minerals as part of our economic and reconstruction plan,” he said.