Rehabilitation of opencast coal mines in the Mpumalanga Highveld, South Africa: Challenges and opportunities

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Phil Tanner and Mark Aken

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The Mpumalanga Highveld is endowed with high potential, arable land that produces much of the country’s rain-fed maize. Ironically this part of the country is also endowed with rich, shallow coal reserves that can be easily mined by strip-mining methods, causing significant surface disturbance. Mines are typically required to reinstate these areas to resemble as closely as possible the pre-mining land capabilities. This is to ensure continuity of agricultural production and to provide food security into the future. Unfortunately, in the main, this has not been achieved, due to the loss of arable land. The loss of arable land capability is matched by an increase in grazing or wilderness land capability, with the transformation lowering the overall productivity and ecological sustainability of the land. Loss of arable land relates to topographical variation, loss of topsoil through under-stripping ahead of mining, and the undesirable changes in soil texture caused by over-stripping. It also relates to increased compaction caused by the heavy mining equipment for soil stripping and placement activities, especially when soils are too wet. Simple, effective rehabilitation guidelines for strip mines in South Africa have been available for over 30 years, but in many instances these guidelines have not been followed. Proper planning at the project (EIA) phase and execution during the construction and operational phase can significantly reduce loss of high potential arable land. This paper looks at the main causes for mines not meeting their post-mining land capability commitments and recommends approaches to improving rehabilitation success.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

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Society for Ecological Restoration