Sustainable development as a theme for integrating the South into the Global Political Economy is driven hard in policy rhetoric in both the G20 and BRICS. Sustainable development is used to refer both to the ability of the South sustain development (i.e. with less and less state economic support) in addition to ensuring the environmental and Just Transition dimensions of sustainability. In our research on Special Economic Zones and broader development strategies in the South we focus on how these initiatives comply with either understanding of sustainability.
In relation to our current research on the three economic zones Coega, Dube Trade Port and Musina Makhado, issues arise about how these will fulfil their inclusive development policy promises. Coega, while established some 18 years ago, has not created employment in ratio with state capital expenditure. Dube, while impressively ecologically sophisticated in terms of the hydroponic Agri-Zone, aims to radically increase its carbon footprint through the proposed Aerotropolis. Dube SEZ has also lagged behind in skills creation in a Zone which emphasises technological sophistication. On the 1st August 2019, while promising that the Aerotropolis would create 75 000 jobs, MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Nomusa Dube-Ncube emphasized that her administration had identified the “…need to market the province of KwaZulu-Natal.., as the persistently high unemployment rate which Stats SA has announced at 29%”.
Musina-Makhado and related up and downstream industries rely on carbon intensive energy sources. The EMSEZ, as it has been named, is based on Chinese investors signed agreements to build a $10 billion metallurgical complex in South Africa during President Xi Jinping’s state visit this week and hope to start construction next year, an executive involved in the project and a provincial official told Reuters. As already flagged, the EMSEZ start-up industry is a 4600 MegaWatt coal plant carrying with it all the labour and environmental contradictions that go along with mining and carbon intensive industries. President Ramaphosa, on the election campaign trail in April 2019 added that “… talks around constructing an oil refinery with the Chinese outside Polokwane have started. In May, the Limpopo Economic Development Agency (LEDA) signed memorandums of understanding and agreement with nine Chinese companies, who will invest more than $10 billion in the Musina-Makhado special economic zone.
Another developmental contradiction that is amplified in the Zomes is the emphasis on FDI and export – led growth as a measure of economic success measured in GDP and GNP statistics. Both of these contradictions are examined in our current policy paper that examines SEZs in global political economy perspective, emphasizing capital over-accumulation and systemic crises as at the heart of the current democratic development impasse in South Africa. It is important to explore the functional developmental differences in terms of the ways in which the three Zones that are operating, even though they are all supported and monitored by the South African Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry (Dti). The Zones are governed by the 2014 SEZ legislation that codifies investor incentives and State-owned Enterprise (SOE) operator framings. These details will be elaborated upon in the subsequent policy papers.