South Africa produces in excess of 255 million tonnes of coal (2011 estimate) and consumes almost three quarters of that domestically. Around 77% of South Africa’s energy needs are directly derived from coal and 92% of coal consumed on the African continent is produced in South Africa.
The use of coal in South Africa dates back to the iron-age (300-1880 AD), when charcoal was used to melt iron and copper, but large-scale exploitation of coal did not occur until the mid-19th century.
The largest coal deposits in South Africa are to be found in the Ecca Group, a stratum of the Karoo Supergroup, dating from between 280 and 250 Ma. The Ecca Group is extensive, covering around two thirds of South Africa and contains more than a third of all coal reserves in the Southern Hemisphere.