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Mineral Resources and Energy: It does not seem like the Department is planning for the future

(Budget vote debate in Parliament: Mineral Resources and Energy)

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is tasked with planning for and regulating the mining and energy sectors. Unfortunately, it seems as if the Department lacks vision. That is the conclusion one can draw from the current practices in these industries.

The mining and exploitation of a country's mineral resources often lays a solid foundation for developing a sophisticated economy. After all, that is how South Africa became an industrial country. At present, however, it is a different story.

At various locations in the country, but especially in the Kalahari between Kuruman and Postmasburg, mining licences were issued without promoting local value addition or planning how the ore will be transported to harbours for export.

After years of neglect, large parts of the country’s railway network are no longer suited to transporting mass freight. As a result, transport contractors were forced to buy fleets of trucks to transport the large quantities of ore on our roads, which were designed for an entirely different kind of traffic. Road decay and potholes are the direct result.

And not only tyres and vehicles are lost in the process, but also human lives. There are various places in the country where people prefer to drive on the gravel roads instead of on the tarred roads with their sharp ridges and deep potholes.

The Department's other responsibility relates to energy provision. While opening up the market would be very advantageous for renewable energy resources, the Department is keeping to its outdated model based on fossil fuels.

The Department’s "short-term solution" of hiring power ships, which will utilise natural gas for twenty years, serves as proof.

The plummeting prices of renewable energy generation, as well as the small scale on which it is already economically viable, mean that soon people will not depend on the government and its agencies to provide them with electricity any longer. In addition, electric vehicles are gaining ground very fast and that reduces the need for fossil fuels even more.

One sometimes gets the impression that the Department is not planning for the future, but for the past, and that the Department wants to keep combusting fossil fuels for as long as possible, regardless of its detrimental impact on our climate.

This raises the following question: What is more important to the government – achieving climate objectives and creating "green" job opportunities or protecting vested interests in fossil energy?

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