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As Drought Grips South Africa, A Conflict Over Water and Coal

Facing one of the worst droughts in memory, South Africa’s leaders have doubled down on their support of the water-intensive coal industry. But clean energy advocates say the smartest move would be to back the country’s burgeoning wind and solar power sectors.

by keith schneider

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Until a ferocious drought withered crops, turned rivers to trickles, and dried up municipal drinking water supplies, one of Limpopo province’s distinctions was the ample sun and good soil that made it South Africa’s premier producer of fruits and vegetables.

Another distinction was that the province’s farmers made an informal agreement to share scarce water with coal companies developing the Waterberg Coalfield that lies beneath dry central Limpopo.

The drought, the most extreme in South Africa since the start of the 20th century, shattered the fragile equilibrium between the agricultural and coal sectors. Pitched street clashes between farmers and police, who back the coal interests, have broken out south of Musina, where Coal Africa proposes to build a $406 million mine in an area where some of the country’s most productive vegetable farms operate. The mine would consume 1 million gallons of water a day, according to company disclosures. Both the mine and neighboring irrigated farms are dependent on the Nzhelele River, which has dwindled to a shallow stream.

Higher temperatures and diminished rainfall, which many scientists attribute to climate change are wreaking havoc in two of South Africa’s largest economic sectors — agriculture and energy. Yet in the face of this growing crisis, South Africa’s leaders continue to display unyielding allegiance to the nation’s water-guzzling coal sector, whose 50-plus billion tons of coal reserves fuel 90 percent of the country’s electrical generating capacity and provide a third of its liquid fuels. Coal also generates hundreds of millions of metric tons of climate-changing carbon emissions annually that aggravate South Africa’s warming and drying.

President Jacob Zuma’s promotion of the coal sector, though, fails to recognize an emerging solution — the renewable energy initiatives that began during the previous administration of Thabo Mbeki. Today, 13 wind power plants and 31 solar generating stations are operating in South Africa and $6 billion has been invested in renewable energy installations. These projects, which do not pollute the air and use scant amounts of water, represent 75 percent of the new electrical capacity generated by South Africa this century, according to the most recent report by the South Africa Department of Energy.

Roughly 45 sizable wind and solar projects are in various stages of construction, financing, and permitting. Indeed, the country appears well on its way to reaching the national target of 6,000 new megawatts of renewable generating capacity by 2020 and 18,000 new megawatts by 2030.

During the nine-year administration of President Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela as the nation’s second black president, South Africa seemed to be preparing for an economy that discouraged carbon emissions and resource waste, and encouraged conservation. Even as Mbeki criticized global environmental summits as Western efforts to impede development in poor nations, he nevertheless encouraged elevating ecological principles to prominence in South Africa’s economic development strategy. In 2008, the year Mbeki left office, South Africa adopted a national framework for sustainable development, which called for lowering carbon emissions and water consumption.

Although the South African private sector has been steadily expanding wind and solar power, President Zuma has shown no such enthusiasm for renewable energy. The president’s last two years in office have generated fierce criticism and public protests because of his government’s faltering response to dwindling supplies of water for drinking and irrigation. Critics also have attacked his proposals for new water-consuming coal, uranium, and nuclear projects.

Activists argue that neither the coal-based energy strategy nor nuclear power are suitable for the ecological conditions and market opportunities of this century. They cite the example of the Karoo Desert south of Johannesburg, where South Africa’s uranium reserves lie. The Karoo is one of the driest landscapes on the planet, yet the first big mine proposed there would consume 1 million gallons of water a day.

“Energy is the biggest threat to South Africa’s environment — it’s a threat to our water and our economy,” said Bobby Peek, founder and director of groundWork, one of the country’s premier environmental organizations. The group is working with community organizations to stop the Colenso coal-fired plant in KwaZulu-Natal, which would siphon off millions of gallons daily from the headwaters of the Tugela River. “There’s a drought happening,” said Peek. “It’s serious. But it’s as if our government is stuck deep in the sand and doesn’t want to see what’s going on.”

Just this week, the Zuma administration announced a new program to collaborate with Iranian financiers to address water scarcity by building desalination plants in coastal cities. Critics noted that the announcement ignored the reality of the plants’ many billions of dollars in costs, or that South Africa’s credit rating is near junk status.

Some officials are acknowledging South Africa’s growing water problems.

“There are significant difficulties from this drought,” said Dhesigen Naidoo, the chief executive of the National Water Commission, a research and science agency in Pretoria. “The drought cannot be managed the way previous droughts have been managed. In previous droughts we hadn’t factored in climate change. We are convinced that this drought is not part of a normal drought cycle that we’ve had in the past. This one is quite different. So we regard this as a drought in the climate change scenario, and our planning is working around that.”

Limpopo, about the size of Louisiana, borders Zimbabwe in South Africa’s north. In the town of Lephalale, farmers and other rural residents are locked in battles to protect water supplies from new power plants, as well as from plans to expand mining in the Waterberg Coalfield.

Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned electric utility, is building one of the new coal-burning plants, the 4,800-megawatt Medupi coal-fired power station, on a stretch of dry land west of Lephalale. When its six generating units are fully operational, perhaps by the early 2020s, the plant will consume 6.9 billion gallons of water annually.

South Africa anticipated the need for a torrent of processing water for the Medupi plant by spending $1 billion to build pumping stations, water supply and storage infrastructure, and 130 miles of pipeline to tap the distant Crocodile and Mokolo rivers. But the ongoing drought is producing fresh evidence that the two rivers may not have sufficient water in the 2020s and beyond to sustain agriculture, a fast-growing population, existing industries, and a gigantic power plant now estimated to cost $16 billion to complete.

The president’s devotion to coal has prompted intensifying civic resistance, which is showing some results. The administration’s environmental approval of the proposed 1,200-megawatt Thabametsi coal-fired station, to be built near Medupi, has been suspended following a formal appeal by groundWork and Earthlife, another prominent South African environmental organization.

In April, following an appeal by Vhembe Mineral Resources Stakeholders Forum — a group of Limpopo farmers and residents — the South Africa Water Tribunal reversed a January ruling by the Department of Water Affairs and suspended COAL South Africa’s water use license to develop the Makhado mine. The ruling halted indefinitely the development of the mine.

Such defiance is not persuasive to South Africa’s president, nor to those in his administration charged with reviewing and approving Limpopo’s new mine and power plant projects. Last August, Zuma traveled to Limpopo to attend the commercial opening of the 794-megawatt Unit 6 at Medupi, the first new coal-fired generator to start in South Africa this century.

He praised the big new plant and emphasized the need to meet the country’s demand for electricity. “The energy shortage is a serious obstacle to growth,” said Zuma. “In this regard, the opening of Unit 6 is a significant achievement for the country.”

Zuma has never attended the opening of a wind or solar installation. Three months after his appearance at Medupi, Zuma delivered an address at the G20 gathering of heads of state in Turkey. In his speech, Zuma could not remember how much money is being invested to develop the first 6,000 megawatts of renewable energy in South Africa, which is 1,200 more megawatts of generating capacity than Medupi. Zuma told the G20 leaders it was $14 million. The accurate amount is $13.4 billion, or $3 billion less than the current estimated cost of completing Medupi.

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Source: e360.yale


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DA calls for drought to be categorised a national disaster

Five provinces have so far been declared disaster areas since the country experienced its worst drought in 23 years.

Scientists have determined that 2015 was the warmest year since 1880‚ when records began to be kept.

The five provinces include KwaZulu-Natal‚ Free State‚ North West‚ Limpopo and Mpumalanga. And if the Eastern Cape‚ Northern Cape and Western Cape‚ have been luckier‚ certain districts in these provinces have nevertheless been declared disaster zones.

The DA wants the minister to declare a national disaster “to address the effects of South Africa’s worst drought in 23 years that has seen ordinary South Africans without water for protracted periods of time”.

Minister of Agriculture Senzeni Gokwana has said that a national disaster cannot be declared‚ because not all provinces are affected by the drought. But the DA is arguing that the Disaster Management Act defines a national disaster as one affecting more than one province and‚ minimally‚ affecting a single province which is unable to deal with it effectively.

The DA said in a statement on Monday: “The current drought has seen thousands of head of livestock die across all provinces which has potential to compromise food security as well as having an enormous impact on South Africa’s already struggling economy‚ and is now resulting in towns and communities running dry.

This is compounded by the continuing energy crisis‚ increasing consumer goods prices and joblessness; with the poor bearing the brunt.”

Source: timeslive


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South Africa: One Stop Health Centre for Miners

Pretoria — Mineworkers will soon have access to health and labour services at a One Stop Health Service Centre which will be built in Limpopo.

Services offered at the centre will include screening for silicosis, TB or any occupational lung disease.

The centre, which will cater for current and former mineworkers, will also treat workers and rehabilitate those that need rehabilitation.

The administrative wing of the centre will house various labour law related advice services.

The services will include maternity and paternal benefits managed by the UIF, compensation in relation to the Injuries and Disease Act (COIDA), benefits managed by the Compensation Fund (CF) of the Department of Labour, as well as compensation benefits under the Compensation Fund of the Department of Health.

The Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources, Godfrey Oliphant, Deputy Ministers of Health Dr Joe Phaahla and Deputy Minister of Labour, iNkosi Phathekile Holomisa, on Monday joined hands in a sod-turning ceremony in Burgersfort, Limpopo, for the soon to be established One Stop Health Service Centre.

Current and former-mineworkers have been encouraged to call the toll free number: 080 100 0240 for any enquiries on mining related occupational diseases.

Source: allafrica


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South Africa Invests R100 Million in Tourism

Speaking at the launch of Tourism Month in Limpopo on 16 August, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said R100 million had been invested in growing the tourism sector in the country.

“With this investment we are committed to ensuring that the wonders we boast of, and the unique heritage we have been endowed with, are shared by more and more South Africans,” he said.

Everyone can be an ambassador

Hanekom said it was important that all South Africans became ambassadors of their own country. They could start by travelling within the country to discover, learn, and fall in love with all its beauty and diversity.

“As more of our people discover more about our country, they will feel a sense of pride and belonging.

“There is nothing like direct contact and interaction between people to break through artificial social barriers and allow us to share the things we all have in common,” he said.

Employment and growth

In 2014, tourism accounted for close to 10% of all employed people in South Africa.

Domestic trips increased by 11% in the year to reach 28 million, and the revenue generated by domestic tourism alone in 2014 was R26.8-billion.

It’s all about access

Hanekom said for the country to reach its target of 18 million domestic tourists by 2020 – as set out in the National Tourism Sector Strategy – it would have to work harder to make tourism more affordable and more accessible to all South Africans.

“We are therefore very keen to work with the trade to make travel a reality for millions of South Africans,” he said.

“All members of the trade are encouraged to upload their value-for-money deals on to the Sho’t Left website and to provide a variety of packages and options to suit all budgets.”

World Tourism Day

This year, World Tourism Day falls on 27 September, and the theme is “A billion tourists, a billion opportunities”.

It provides a platform to examine how communities around the world work to grow tourism through unearthing new opportunities. World Tourism Day in South Africa will be celebrated in Limpopo.

The province is home to world-class travel attractions such as the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site and the Kruger National Park.

Source: allafrica


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Meet South Africa during Tourism Month

September is Tourism Month in South Africa, and this year’s celebrations were kickstarted with an official launch on August 16 by Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, at Euphoria Golf Resort in the Waterberg region of Limpopo province.

“During Tourism Month, we focus our efforts on domestic tourism in particular, using the period as an opportunity to encourage all South Africans to get out and explore this unique, beautiful and diverse country,” said Hanekom.

As part of his address at the Tourism Month launch, Hanekom pointed to a new domestic tourism marketing campaign – A Million New Experiences are a Sho’t Left Away – which will be the theme for this year’s Tourism Month as well.

The new domestic campaign, informed by consumer insights research conducted by South African Tourism, encourages South Africans to take a leisure break away from home and start travelling their own country. The campaign premise is about the joy of discovering new experiences for the first time, thus highlighting that South Africa has myriad tourist experiences to be discovered, whether one is a new or a seasoned traveller.

Tourism Month celebrations rotate among the provinces each year, with a different province given an opportunity to host the celebrations. During this month all provinces are encouraged to showcase their leisure experiences on offer so as to inspire domestic travellers. Tourism Month coincides with Heritage Month in South Africa, fitting for this year’s choice of Limpopo as the host province.

Limpopo is a culturally rich and diverse province that boasts attractions such as the Modjadji cycad forest, the Mapungubwe Heritage Site and the Ribolla Cultural Route, to mention but a few.

“Limpopo is a wonderful region of the country to explore. Its warm, friendly culture makes one feel truly at home. It is a must-visit destination for any South African who wants to learn more about South Africa’s cultural heritage,” added Hanekom.

He explained that domestic tourism is critical to the long-term growth and sustainability of South Africa’s tourism industry.

In 2014, tourism contributed some 9.4% to the nation’s gross domestic product and accounted for close to 10% of all employed people in South Africa. Last year, 35% of all adult South Africans took a trip domestically. Domestic trips increased by 11% to reach 28-million last year. The revenue generated by domestic tourism alone in the same year was R26.8-billion in 2014, an increase of 11% on the previous year.

“We have ring-fenced significant budget to invest in growing this specific sector and to enhance our marketing efforts. It is important to us that all South Africans become ambassadors of their own country, and the first step to achieving this is to travel, discover, learn, and fall in love with South Africa’s beauty and tourism offerings. Making domestic travel affordable and accessible will encourage South Africans to explore and experience their own country,” concluded Hanekom.

Source: southafrica


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Notorious Moloto Road now part of Sanral network

One of South Africa’s most dangerous roads, the Moloto Road which runs north of Pretoria and passes through three provinces, has been incorporated into the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) road network. The government gazette announcing the incorporation was published on 29 July. Print Send to Friend 0 0 “This has given Sanral the go-ahead to make this deadly road safer. We are now responsible for the upgrading of the 93 km road – the R573 – which stretches from Mpumalanga/Gauteng border to Marble Hall in Limpopo,” said Sanral northern region project manager Madoda Mthembu.

With thousands of commuters using the road daily, the poor surface condition coupled with irresponsible driver behaviour has resulted in a high rate of crashes and fatalities along the route. “As the road traverses three different provinces – managed by three different road authorities – there were difficulties in maintaining it. We are of one mind with the Minister of Transport that this road needs to be made safer for its users urgently, and that this requires a single road authority to ensure sustainable maintenance to do so,” Mthembu said.

Government has set aside just over R1-billion to improve the road. The project involves upgrading the road to accommodate existing and future traffic, improved access roads and routine road maintenance such as pothole repairs, the cleaning of storm water culverts and the updating of road signs and road markings. According to Madoda, routine road maintenance started the same day the road was transferred to Sanral.

The rehabilitation phase will kick-off once contractors have been procured the design and environmental impact assessments have been done. This is estimated to be during the 2017/18 financial year. The project will be completed approximately 36 months thereafter and forms part of Sanral’s non-toll portfolio – meaning the road will not be tolled

Source: engineeringnews


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Notwane River wastewater: A mineral unexplored

Everyday millions of litres of wastewater flow past the villages of Oodi, Matebele, Mochudi and others along the Notwane River. The perennial current weaves its way past villages and cattle posts, over a distance of nearly 300 kilometres. 

Far away in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, Notwane empties into the Limpopo River near Thabazimbi.

Here it settles into Notwane Dam, an 18,800,000 cubic metres reservoir largely used by South Africans for irrigation purposes.

The perennial flow’s source can be traced back to the bathrooms and kitchens of both the Greater Gaborone and the city’s nearly 500,000 residents.

It would have emptied into the Gaborone Water Treatment Plant by way of sewers, or transported by effluence tankers to the Gaborone Sewage Farm or treatment plant.

After it is treated the water is released into lagoons or stabilisation ponds. Some of it flows into a wetland in the Gaborone Game Reserve and into the Notwane River.

It is an unceasing, gurgling flow of millions of cubic metres of a liquid that elsewhere on planet Earth is considered more precious than any mineral.

Yet, the value of this effluent water has been greatly ignored in Botswana. For instance, of the hundreds of farms along the Notwane River in the villages of Oodi, Matebele and Mochudi that Mmegi saw, less than 20 were putting the water to use.

Most are small gardens leased to Zimbabweans.  The immigrants, most of whom are poor and illegal, cannot afford to plant bigger pieces of land for fear they could be deported anytime, or because the people who lease the farms to them may come just as their crop matures and demand their farms back.

“It is a chance we have no choice but to take,” says Tidings Dumbo who has just over 3,000 rape plants.

He pumps water from the Notwane River and allows it to flow into trenches. “From here to the river it is less than 100 metres, so I just use a water pump to bring the water to the plants,” he says.

Many of the nearby one-hectare farms along the river are, however, bereft of activity.

“Some of the owners will neither lease nor cultivate the fields, and many of them have been sitting like this for many years.” Dumbo argues there is a scarcity of vegetables in Botswana which could be offset by adequate use of Notwane River waters. He currently has paprika, and green pepper, which he says sell well.

“Whoever wants to buy green pepper will want to buy paprika. You can’t go wrong with these,” he says.

His countryman Jonston Sibanda, who like Dumbo operates solo from a rented field says he is able to put bread on the table from his vegetable garden.

He also pumps water from the Notwane River and uses trenches.

About 400 metres from Sibanda’s farm sits a bigger farm with better infrastructure.

A half dozen men and women stop working as we disembark our vehicle.

One of them is the owner. He trudges towards us in his muddy gumboots and only when he is closer do we realise he is Asian, Chinese really.

“Englis ton’t know, speak berry litel,” he declares in a good mannered way after learning what our mission is, namely, to see how much residents make use of the Notwane River flow.

He introduces himself as Cheng and calls one of his workers, Thabo, to field questions on his behalf.

Altogether he has five hectares of farmland that sit less than a hundred metres from the river.

He plants various types of vegetables, including those that are in high demand among his native Chinese population. Using a combination of both sprinkler and trenching Chen remains one of the most prolific vegetable farmers in this area. An even better example of a determination to use Notwane River water is Saith Mustafa. The Bangladesh-born Mustafa has run his farm for 20 years. “I have been here for 20 years and plant all types of vegetables – from eggplant to pumpkins and all leafy vegetables such as cabbage, spinach and chomolia,” he says.

He employs over a dozen locals in his five hectare farm. Mustafa is appalled at the failure by Batswana to utilise the Notwane River water. “You could practically export vegetables to other countries. “Diamonds may lose value. The Chinese and Russians are already making artificial diamonds.

“The hope of this nation is in agriculture. That beef’s contribution to the GDP has declined, it is necessary to build other aspects of agriculture such as horticultural farming, both to feed the nation and diversify the economy,” he says.  He believes government should play a more proactive role in ensuring farms along such useful rivers as Notwane are put to good use.

“There is so much potential. Agriculture could be Botswana’s next diamond.”

Mustafa believes the country also has enough underground water to sustain irrigation. “Some parts of the country such as certain areas of Lobatse, all the way to the Mahalapye area have adequate underground water to build irrigation farming.

“Even the desert areas, which have far more underground water than the rest of the country can become thriving agricultural farms.” He gives the example of Israel, which he says utilises ‘every drop’ to turn their deserts into green pastures.

“It is possible,” he says. With regard to planting along the Notwane River, Mustafa says it comes with a lot of benefits. “You use very little or no fertiliser as the water is rich in those.” It appears however, that without government playing a more proactive role towards ensuring adequate use of the Notwane waters, the country’s food security shall remain questionable. If iclined though, government must first deal with the many challenges around usage of waste water.

Among the challenges noted by this publication are attitudes and perceptions about the use of effluent water.  It is a problem many nations that chose to make use of their treated waste water have had to grapple with.  However once the people have been disabused of those perceptions, and effectively assured that dangerous toxins and algae would have been removed during treatment of the water, many may start warming towards the idea of using it.

According to experts, Botswana could add up to 16 percent more water to the country’s available resources and demand, by adequately treating and availing wastewater such as that of the Notwane River. This present a wonderful hope for a country grappling with an acute shortage of water.

Source: Mmegi online


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