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Water Demand: Mining and Industry

Industry has a relatively small demand on water resources in each basin country according to 2007 World Development Indicators (World Bank 2010). Botswana has the highest industrial demand at 18 % while Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe have demands ranging from 2 % to 7 % on a country-wide basis.

Mining is a major consumer of water and has an environmental impact on water resources. Commodities mined in the Limpopo River basin include predominantly gold, asbestos, copper, nickel, tungsten, pyrite, and emerald (Ashton et al. 2001a). A visual overview of mines in the basin is shown on the next page, Mining and Industry in the Basin.

While mining is extremely important to economic development in the Limpopo River basin, there are currently some significant concerns regarding the negative impacts of mine effluents on the environment.  Once such concern is related to Acid Mine Drainage (AMD).  To learn more about AMD, please refer to the Industry and Mining section of Human Impacts on Water Quality, in the River Basin Theme.


In 2000 the mining and energy sector accounted for 18 % of the total water withdrawals in all of Botswana (Aquastat Botswana 2010), and only 9 % in the Limpopo basin (LBPTC 2010). In Botswana, most mining is associated with the mineralised Greenstone belts, with copper, gold and nickel the most important commodities mined (Ashton et al. 2001a).

Debswana’s Current and Future Water Management Challenges in Botswana

Debswana, is a 50/50 joint venture between the Government of Botswana and the De Beers Group and has a coal mine (Morupule) situated at Palaype close to the Lotsane River which drains into the Limpopo River in Botswana.

This mine typically uses less than 70 000 m³ of water annually for process and domestic use. However, as production increases are planned, increasing water demands are anticipated. Debswana has water conservation as a high priority in the proposed plant design and future planning at the Morupule coal mine.

Source: Brook 2010

Morupule coal mine in Limpopo River basin - Botswana.
Source: Debswana 2010
( click to enlarge )


Industrial water demand, including mining, is quite small at less than 2 % of the total water demand in the basin in Mozambique (LBPTC 2010). Mining is considered to be promising in various parts of Mozambique (LBPTC 2010). Heavy mineral sands are under prospecting in the southern end of the Lower Limpopo sub-catchment. The largest planned project in the basin within Mozambique was the Chibuto heavy metals project, however, it has been abandoned (LBPTC 2010). Natural gas is prevalent within these districts as well, although extraction has not yet occurred. In general, large-scale industrial activity within the basin in Mozambique is very insignificant and the commercial network is weak. The dominant economies are predominantly small-scale crafts such as carpentry, milling, and bakeries, although, the district of Chibuto is known for its industry of rice shelling (LBPTC 2010).

South Africa

Mining accounts for approximately 8 % of water demand in South Africa in the Limpopo basin (LBPTC 2010). Mining is dominated by the production of gold in South Africa and accounts for 10 % of its GDP (Aquastat South Africa 2010). Although South Africa is the world’s largest producer of gold, its contribution to the nation’s total mineral output has declined significantly since 1946. South Africa is also a leading producer and exporter of various metals including antimony, chromites, fluorite, gems and industrial diamonds, manganese, platinum, vanadium, and vermiculite.

As noted in the table and maps in Mining and Industry n the Basin, the Crocodile sub-catchment falling within South Africa, has the largest number of mines of any sub-catchment in the Limpopo basin at 79 with 61 in operation (Ashton et al. 2001a). Coal mines predominate in the Upper Olifants sub-catchment while the majority of the gold mines are located in the Shingwedzi catchment.


Of all the mines in the Limpopo River basin, 20 % fall within the borders of Zimbabwe.The sectors of urban, industry, and mining are the largest water users in the Limpopo basin within Zimbabwe, accounting for approximately 50 % of total water demand (LBPTC 2010).

Gold production in Zimbabwe is the heart of the country’s mining industry with over
2 000 operating mines scattered around the country, though predominating in western part of the Gwanda Greenstone Belt and previously in the Lower Gwanda Greenstone Belt (Schluter 2006; Ashton et al. 2001a).

The largest three mines listed in the Limpopo basin in Zimbabwe are in the Mzingwane sub-catchment producing clay minerals and limestone (In the Basin).