As the world's fifth largest coal exporter and a key swing supplier between the Atlantic and Pacific coal markets, South Africa is a crucial player in global markets. While the country has long been Europe's major supplier of coal, South African exports have begun to shift east and are steadily becoming a major source of coal supply for the Asian coal boom. This strategic positioning sets the stage for South Africa to become an even more important player in determining how the world trades and prices coal.
In the coming decade South Africa will face a number of difficult decisions around how to meet increasing domestic coal demand while dealing with climate concerns, increasing exports, and building the infrastructure that would enable the country to significantly expand market share in the global coal trade. In many ways, the fate of South Africa's coal sector now hangs in the balance.
This paper explores the interplay between South Africa's domestic and export thermal coal markets and what might shape their development in the future. The paper first examines the industrial organisation and political-economy of the coal sector in South Africa. An overview is provided of coal mining companies, how the current market structure emerged historically, the development of rail and port facilities, and coal costs and prices. Policy and legislative developments are also described. Finally scenarios are developed for local and export coal markets.