FUTURE WATER: Mike Teke. Pic. Katherine Muick-Mere. 27/01/2010. © Sunday Times.
FUTURE WATER: Mike Teke. Pic. Katherine Muick-Mere. 27/01/2010. © Sunday Times.

THE problem of the lack of a clean water supply in the Steve Tshwete municipality in Mpumalanga will soon be a thing of the past after the launch of the Optimum Coal Water Reclamation Plant.

On Wednesday Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Buyelwa Sonjica officially opened the plant thar was built to the tune of R600 million.

The plant took 20 months to build and was developed by the Aveng Group, which was involved in the construction of the new Soccer City and Nelson Mandela Bay stadiums.

Using state-of-the-art instrumentation technology, the plant takes salty water, which is generated by the mining process, and pumps it into an evaporation dam. The water then undergoes a long cleaning process that results in water that is 56 percent better than some bottled water.

During the purification process a by-product, gypsum, is produced and used by construction companies for the ceilings of buildings.

The plant is based southeast of Middelburg in Mpumalanga. It will on average deliver 16 megalitres a day. It is the second of its kind after the one in Emalahleni built by Anglo American.

Optimum Coal is a 58 percent black-owned mining company listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

The plant is expected to run even after the 22-year lifespan of the mine. The water flowing from the plant will be given to the Steve Tshwete municipality.

"It is a big breakthrough for our community and could not have come at a better time," said Mantlhakeng Mahlangu, executive mayor of the Steve Tshwete municipality.

Mahlangu said mines contributed a lot to the pollution of water in the province and providing clean water was a challenge.

"We are just now negotiating the price of the water but we are happy because the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs is regulating the pricing," she said.

"We were struggling to meet the water demands of the municipality so our people can start to celebrate this big breakthrough," Mahlangu said.

Sonjica said her department was supportive of the construction of the plant where mine water is turned to beneficial use by ensuring that the communities around the municipality benefit from the potable water.

"Our department has a vision for South Africa to be a prosperous and equitable society, living in harmony with its natural resources," Sonjica said.

Optimum Coal CEO Mike Teke said the plant was part of the growth projects of the company.

"Optimum Coal is a great corporate citizen that is serious about its commitment to all its stakeholders. Therefore, the third key development project is what we are all gathered here - the plant," Teke said.