Mines don’t last forever, but the benefits they bring to local communities don’t have to disappear when the ore does. Mine closure planning can turn an environmental and social liability into a new opportunity.

The Africa Research Group (ARG) at Murdoch was created to harness the collective efforts of Murdoch’s researchers with an African focus, and partner with African communities to address pressing social and environmental issues of mutual relevance. One commonality is mining and mine closure practices.

During the 2012 Africa Australia Research Forum, at the height of the mining boom, there was much discussion about what happens when the cycle eventually busts – mine closures and abandoned mines. Australia has thousands of abandoned mines, and has learned the hard way about mining legacy issues. Africa, in the middle of its biggest mining boom, had much of this ahead.

Prompted by these discussions, in 2014 the ARG and visiting academic Prof. Hudson Mtegha from the University of the Witwatersrand worked in partnership with a number of government and industry groups across Australia and Africa on a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-funded project to assess what regulations, policies and practices existed for managing mine closure and minimising environmental and social risks in seven African nations. It also assessed the environmental, health and social risks associated with several abandoned African mines.

The project then considered what elements of Western Australia’s mining legislation, policies and practices would be relevant in African contexts to deal with large abandoned mine legacy issues. The team also assessed how implementing best practice environmental closure standards can attract further mining investment, and provide enduring benefits for mining companies, governments and communities.

Based on this work, the team then developed a seven-week training program on best practice principles in mine closure. Led by Murdoch, course design drew on expertise within the ARG, North-West University, Curtin University, UWA, and the Western Australian Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety. The course combined classroom activities with field visits, engagement with mining companies and government agencies, and comparisons of activities across Western Australia and in South Africa.

Twenty-five senior civil servants from thirteen African nations participated in the course in late 2016, helping define and disseminate mine closure best practice in the African context. The impact of the first course has led to ongoing interest in this collaboration and research. The partners have expanded to include the University of Capetown, Cardiff University and the Africa Progress Group. More attention is now being brought to bear on sustainability issues and secondary land uses post-mining that maximise the benefit of legacy mining infrastructure (roads, power, water, supply chains), particularly the nexus between mining and agricultural communities.

Demand is building for another mine closure best practice course, which will be led by Professor Wendell Ela in September 2019. The expanded eight-week program will again combine activities across countries, mine sites, industries and government agencies, to further inform mine closure best practice not just in Australia and Africa, but globally.