for its prodigious mining output, KwaZulu-Natal has strategic importance to the sector if only because its harbours at Richards Bay and Durban are sought after conduits for coal exporters.
According to Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), Richards Bay and Durban could support as much as 200 million tons per year (mtpa) in coal exports in the long term. This compares to the 70mtpa exported currently – volumes that TFR may struggle to meet in its current financial year.
Ali Motala, GM of TFR’s Waterberg coal business, believes that creating export coal entitlement in KZN, especially in Richards Bay, is crucial to the economic well-being of the region, including Botswana, which he believes could supply 60mtpa of export-quality coal from its share of the Waterberg coalfields that extend southwards into the Limpopo province.
Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) is already setting about proposals to expand its capacity from the current 91mtpa to 110mtpa, while TFR says it has not abandoned plans for a 20mtpa terminal at its own site in Richards Bay despite agreeing to support the RBCT in its growth plans.
KZN’s primary supply of minerals and metals is limited but it does have anthracite, which is sold in international markets as a substitute product for the more expensive coking coal. Both anthracite and coking coal are burnt to fire smelters producing steel and is therefore crucial to industrial growth, especially in Asia.
The performance of companies operating in KZN’s anthracite fields has been spotty, however, partly owing to the depressed state of the coal markets at present.
Miranda Minerals and Buffalo Coal Corporation have failed to make a massive success of their anthracite mines, mostly situated around the Dundee region. Johannesburg-listed Keaton Energy is breaking even at its KZN colliery, Vaalkrantz, which supplies Brazil with anthracite, but the going is tough with uneven geology.
Petmin, another JSE-listed firm, however, has in its Somkhele colliery in KZN, a major profit driver. The colliery was recently expanded taking production to more than 1m tons annually, which also includes a thermal coal product.