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Following the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, the Department of Minerals & Energy (DME) has initiated a programme to develop a national strategic framework to guide the mining and minerals sector in the minerals sector in South Africa to sustainable development.

The programme titled “Sustainable Development through Mining” (SDM) embraces initiatives and policies emanating from the United Nations (UN) Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI), the UN Global Compact, the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), the Business Charter for Sustainable Development and the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Initiative among others.

The DME is supported in the development of the programme by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Mintek and the Council for Geoscience (CGS). The programme has entered its second full year, and the core competencies of the respective science councils have been harnessed into a cohesive unit.

The classic definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs” and the DME has integrated this philosophy through the articulation of its vision “by 2010 the mining sector will contribute optimally to sustainable development”

Programme Objectives and Aims

A number of objectives have been identified by the DME:
1. To develop a common vision for sustainable development through mining among stakeholders;
2. To create a strategic framework for sustainable development through mining in South Africa;
3. To identify and prioritise derelict and ownerless mines for rehabilitation;
4. To rehabilitate these ownerless mines;
5. To develop a comprehensive strategy to ensure effective and transparent enforcement that will prevent future derelict and ownerless mine liabilities;
6. To facilitate capacity building, community projects as well as the promotion of women in mining.



    The world in which we live and work today is largely influenced by sustainability imperatives. The mining industry is not immune to these forces and is likely to be more deeply affected than other sectors of the South African economy.

    Mining, processing, beneficiation, utilisation, disposal and recycling of minerals have in some instances led to significant negative environmental and social impacts. It is therefore not always apparent that mining brings economic and social benefits to its host country and local communities.

    Sustainable development is a continuous process and has the potential to lead to wealth creation, poverty alleviation, as well as human and social development. It allows for enhancement of the natural environment without detriment to communities and generations to come. Universal analyses and standard solutions for sustainable development will rarely be applicable in all scenarios, as it takes different forms depending on local livelihoods, sectoral contexts, existing institutions and resources.

    What is a sustainable development strategy?

    The absence of a strategic framework can lead to a short term reactive focus on current problems (in the case of the minerals sector, this could be issues such as acid mine drainage in sensitive areas and mine closure priorities) without a clear, long term, broad strategic response to sustainable development imperatives.  While focus on contemporary issues and problems is vital for the DME, there is a definite need to take a strategic view of the sector into the future, in order to enhance its contribution to sustainable development.
    Sustainable Development, in this context is a broad concept encompassing amongst others, the full minerals resource value chain, expectations of a range of stakeholders and complex regulatory environments.  Achieving the vision of sustainable development therefore needs to be guided by a framework to ensure synergy between stakeholder efforts and directed progress in this regard.
    With a broadly supported vision in place, the approach will be to identify key obstacles to achieving the vision and to develop strategies and plans to overcome these obstacles.
    The overarching aims of the strategic framework will give effect to the fulfillment of the DME’s commitments in terms of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002).
    The sustainable development ideal lies at the nexus of biophysical, social and economic realms, supported by good governance, as illustrated in the following figure (MMSDsa 2002).

    What we will achieve

    The SDM programme will develop a sustainable development strategic framework for the South African mining industry.
    The framework will provide guidelines to the mining industry, government and other key stakeholders, ensuring that South Africa and its people benefit in a sustainable manner from the mining of its mineral wealth.
    Indicators to monitor the mining industries adherence to the sustainable development guidelines will be created.

    Aiming to ensure that the appropriate tools are created to assist the mining industry with sustainable development, the strategy takes into account the national, regional and international commitments made by the minerals sector.

    The strategy incorporates a number of local and global initiatives and policies, including The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act of 2002, The United Nations (UN) Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, The UN Global Compact, NEPAD, The Business Charter for Sustainable Development, The Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development (Southern Africa) initiative.

    In order to support the achievement of the vision for the sector’s optimal contribution to sustainable development, the strategy will identify and provide direction for among others:
    1. institutional structures (Government and business sector level);
    2. policy, planning and legal aspects;
    3. competency and capacity building;
    4. financial resources;
    5. research priorities;
    6. infrastructure and technology requirements;
    7. monitoring, evaluation and reporting

    How it will be done

    For the DME to achieve its stated objective, the need to conduct intense consultation with government, industry, civic organisations etc. was realised.

    The aim of these consultations is two fold:
    a) Understand current and past sustainable development initiatives conducted by the consulted stakeholder
    b) Understand the constraints that the stakeholders experience which prevent the attainment of sustainable development

    The research will commission specialist studies to understand the current situation in areas such as beneficiation, economic, social and governance. Once these are understood the process of developing a long term strategy with sustainable development indicators will be conducted through specialist studies or research based on the understanding of the constraints and gaps.

    This approach is preferred as it prevents duplication of effort and informs research needs for experimental development and applied research requirements, in order to achieve the goal of sustainability.

    Stakeholders within the South African minerals sector will play an important role in developing the DME’s strategic framework for sustainable development. Key in this respect is stakeholder support for the vision regarding the sector’s contribution to sustainable development. Another important element is the role of stakeholders in identifying obstacles to the achievement of this vision, and in identifying possible actions to offset/overcome these constraints



    What is regional mining closure and rehabilitation?

    In developing the national framework for SDM in the minerals sector, the impact lies within the regions. Regions here are defined as the functional regions rather than the political (provincial or district) regions.  The sustainable benefits of mining should lie within these regions. Therefore regional mining, closure and rehabilitation imply guidelines that are applicable to functional regions for conducting exploration, mining, closure and rehabilitation following sustainable development principles.

     What we would like to achieve
    To identify and map all current and previously unrehabilitated and abandoned mines in South Africa, and to assess or rank the status of these mines in terms of their impact on the environment and community. Best practice rehabilitation methods and regional rehabilitation strategies will be developed for each mineral sector and region.  

    One of the core focus areas for the research is the development of a ranking/prioritisation system for derelict and ownerless mines in South Africa. This will allow evaluation and comparison of derelict mining sites in terms of the risk they pose to human and ecological health and safety, as well as their impact on the surrounding environment, their potential for deterioration, and associated rehabilitation cost efficiency. This enables decisions regarding rehabilitation and closure priorities to be made on a scientific basis.

    The ranking system will be based on five principle considerations:
    1. public and ecological health and safety;
    2. physical stability;
    3. chemical stability;
    4. land use
    5. economic considerations.

    How it will be done

    In developing mining strategies, the programme conducts mining and closure studies. The key aspect of these studies is that they are intended to consider the holistic environment and may assist in identifying best practices for mining, rehabilitation and closure in support of a sustainable future.  

    Based on the current environmental state, these are used to inform future development options for the study area. Comprehensive consultation and collaboration with stakeholders in the various regions will assist in the elimination of duplication and ensure all role players in a region are part of the process.

    Based on the understanding of the state of the area, specialist studies are commissioned where gaps exist. Best practice guidelines for managing the exploration, mining, rehabilitation, closure and post closure in a most sustainable manner are then developed for each mining sector and region.



    What is industry compliance?

    Industry compliance includes assisting the DME (in terms of enforcement) and industry to comply with the Minerals Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) in conjunction with any additional relevant legislation.

    What we would like to achieve

    To develop a Decision Support System (DSS) that will enable government and other parties to monitor the compliance of the mining industry with the sustainable development framework for mines.

    How we do it

    The DSS will support data capture, storage, retrieval and reporting per mine, mine sector and region. A system to facilitate mine audits by the DME and the transfer of this data to decision support systems will be developed. A key component of this area is in assisting department officials when making decisions, in particular those decisions that are related to socio-economic and environmental impacts.

    As part of strengthen enforcement and assistance with industry compliance, a tool is being developed to assist DME officers when doing mine audits. The current tool is a PDA assisted site inspection tool.  The tool will:

    • Ensure that the environmental officer verifies the information contained in the EMPs
    • Provides a template according to which inspections can be conducted
    • Add GPS and an integrated camera as additional data capturing tools
    • Keep record of all field inspections
    • Provide a report facility
    • Replace the Environmental Officer’s: Notebook, Instruction book and Cell phone




    The strategy embraces the recruitment and training of young graduates from HDSA in the field of sustainable development, as well as sending the graduates on short courses to develop business skills.
    The community development programmes involve participation of women and assistance with skills to develop SMMEs.

    What we would like to achieve

    Capacity building is essential in South Africa today. The programme recruits and trains young graduates in the field of sustainable development by sending them on short courses which develop technical and business skills. The project assigns the interns mentors for the duration of the programme which provides practical exposure through programme work. Senior researchers are encouraged to further their understanding through various courses, seminars and conferences.

    Human resources and skills development includes empowerment and skills development in communities where regional strategies are being developed.

    How we do it

    Researchers and interns are exposed to the different types of research conducted within the project.  

    Community projects are being initiated whereby community members are being trained for example to make bricks for use in rehabilitation of the sites. Many other initiatives involving community upliftment are currently underway within the programme.

    Part of the sustainable development thrust is to help develop the skills of the local women – the body Technical Women in Business (TWIB) is encouraging women to become a part of the process.

    TWIB’s vision is to reach, uplift and support women by making science and technology accessible to SMMEs, and establishing networks of women as consumers, workers and entrepreneurs in South Africa.

     Strategic objectives for the TWIB programme are to:
    •  provide SMMEs that are owned by women with access to a science and technology support base
    •  enable women in business to become more effective and profitable;
    •  create more sustainable and high quality jobs; enhance the use of technology by women in business
    •  promote and nurture innovation amongst women
    •  create role models for other women in businesses
    •  mobilize women in business to use technology to enhance their productive capacities
    •  encourage and influence girls and young women to choose careers in science and technology
    •  give recognition to institutions that support women in business
    •  promote co-operation between SMMEs, and large businesses, parastatals, Science Councils
    •  promote publics and private sector support to SMMEs owned and or lead by women
    The SDM programme provides a platform for TWIB to reach its objectives.