South Africa’s shift away from fossil fuels must generate alternative economic activities in order to avoid coal mining areas such as Mpumalanga becoming “ghost towns”, energy and mining minister Gwede Mantashe said on Tuesday.
“If we say we must stop fossil fuels, we must find alternative livelihoods,” Mantashe said on the sidelines of the African Energy Week conference in Cape Town.
“If we don’t have alternative economic activity … then we are going to see more ghost towns in Mpumalanga.”
The US, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union last week announced US$8.5-billion of financing to help South Africa move away from coal and ensure those who work in the industry can find greener alternatives to make a living.
More than 90 000 South Africans were employed in coal mines in 2020. South Africa aims to use the funds to develop new sectors like renewables and electric vehicle manufacturing, which would create jobs as the coal industry is phased out.
Asked about the detrimental health impacts of coal mining and combustion in Mpumalanga, Mantashe said coal provides a livelihood to thousands of people. “If we starve them to death, is that healthier?” he said.
An unpublished study by scientists working for government in 2019 found that more than 5 000 South Africans die annually in the nation’s coal belt because the government has failed to fully enforce its own air quality standards. — Reported by Helen Reid, (c) 2021 Reuters