Marais, L and Atkinson, D (2006), Towards a post-mining economy in a small town: Challenges, obstacles and lessons from Koffiefontein, South Africa, Paper presented at the Desert Knowledge Conference, Alice Springs, Australia, 2-4 November.
Mining closure has been an international phenomenon as resource depletion has continued and economic changes have resulted in the decreased value for some commodities. It has also been a topic of research for an increasing number of scholars. Geographically, a large number of case studies exist world wide, with work on Australia (Maude and Hugo, 1992; Niel and Lea, 1992; Sturney, 1992), Canada (Archer and Bradbury, 1992; Gagnon, 1992; Keyes, 1992), Sweden ( Liljenas, 1992; Nygren and Karlson, 1992), Finland (Talman and Tykkylainenen, 1992), Ghana (Acquah and Boateng, 2000), Indonesia (Strongman, 2000), Papua New Guinea (Jackson, 2002) and Romania, Russia and the Ukraine (Haney and Shkaratan, 2003) being prominent.
Historically, South Africa has been primarily dependent on mineral and energy production and export (Nel, 2002). It is especially in the arid areas of South Africa where diamond mining has been prominent. In line with the international experience, mining closures have also been prominent in South Africa during the past 20 years. These closures have been the result of depleting resources on the one hand, as well as more international competition and mining competitiveness on the other. Although there is an increasing number of papers on mine closure in South Africa (see Seidman, 1993; Binns and Nel, 2001; Binns and Nel, 2003, Nel and Binns, 2002; Nel et al., 2003; Marais et al., 2005) in general, the topic seems to be under-researched despite the fact that South Africa has been hard hit by numerous mine closures during the past 20 years.
It is against this background that the paper examines the phenomenon of mine closure and its impact on the small town of Koffiefontein in the semi-arid region of the south-western Free State (Karoo). The paper attempts to identify opportunities, obstacles and lessons from this case study. Fundamentally, we argue that despite good intent by most of role players, our case study suggests that longer-terms partnerships and the integration of development thinking between different spheres of government and mining companies remain difficult in practice. This situation persists despite some hope being offered by the availability of the best enabling legislation and planning frameworks in South African history.