It’s midday, and the sun is blazing in Makhado, but a khaki-clad Johan Fourie is unperturbed as he traipses through his lush bushveld paradise: his game lodge in the scenic, sensitive Limpopo Valley. “This is cool weather for us,” he smiles.
He is dwarfed by an ancient giant that towers over his property. “It’s amazing, isn’t it,” Fourie says, gazing up at the 1 200-year-old baobab tree.
Plans to uproot more than 109 000 trees at the construction site for the government’s proposed Musina-Makhado special economic zone, including thousands of protected mopane, marula and baobab trees, don’t sit well with Isaac Sekwama.
“These trees are woven into our culture and are sacred to us,” says Sekwama, who lives in the Tshikuwi village in Limpopo, around 25km from the proposed 8000-hectare southern site of the controversial metallurgical cluster.
“There are a lot of indigenous trees, which have cultural significance to us as the Venda people, because the roots, the bark, are used for many different things.”
Last month, the final environmental impact assessment (EIA) report by the project’s environmental consultants, Delta Built Environmental Consultants, described how the total number of trees recorded in the proposed construction area is 109 034, of which 51.3% are marula trees, 41.9% shepherd trees, 5.2% baobab and 1.65% leadwood trees.
Its specialists recommend that juvenile and subadult trees need to be relocated and transplanted.
“This should be done when the plants are actively growing, and the outside temperature is less than 30°C, which would increase the likelihood of successful translocation and with the input of a horticulturist, or a plant translocation specialist.”
A horticulturist and a plant translocation specialist need to be consulted on the feasibility of the relocation of the adult trees, says the final EIA, which notes how De Beers’ Venetia Mine did successful relocation of baobab trees in 2016 and SANParks in 2005.
The flawed public participation process of the proposed mega-toxic Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ) left people in the dark about its negative livelihoods and environmental risks.
The dirty energy metallurgical cluster centres on a huge coal plant for mineral extraction and processing, of which, according to the MMSEZ’s master operational plan, 70% of what is produced is destined for China. The list of proposed industries includes a coal washery, a coking plant, a thermal plant, a ferrochrome plant, a ferromanganese plant, stainless steel, high manganese steel and vanadium steel plants as well as lime and cement plants.
The initiative — described in the final environmental impact assessment (EIA) as “the largest single planned SEZ [Special Economic Zone] in the country comprising 20 closely linked and interdependent industrial plants — will be run by a Chinese conglomerate, Shenzhen Hoi Mor Resources. Its chief executive, Yat Hoi Ning, is on the Interpol watch list after being charged with fraud by a Zimbabwean mining conglomerate, Bindura Nickel Corp and Freda Rebecca gold mine group, both listed in London.
This does not bode well for due diligence on the part of the department of trade and industry, who awarded the contract in 2017, when the charges against Yat Hoi Ning were already public, nor for accountability practices in the future, especially as there are so many oversight warning bells clanging at the start of the project. The rushed-through EIA process is a disturbing case in point.
Between September 2020 and 31 January 2021, environmental organisations and activists hoped to stay the approval of the first high-level EIA on a variety of concerns, including the fact that Limpopo is a climate change and biodiversity hotspot. The 8 000ha site designated for the MMSEZ, situated between Musina and Makhado municipalities …
The immediate objective of this policy paper is to critically analyse the lack of sustainable development public policy thinking to South Africa’s largest development mega-project of the Covid era: the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ). Fieldwork undertaken in 2019 and 2020 has established that local municipalities and communities in Musina-Makhado have little, if any, knowledge of the SEZ.
This policy paper further explores how the MMSEZ is part of the Brazil Russia India China South Africa (BRICS) and Forum on China -Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Global South development strategy led by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to accelerate ‘inclusive’ development and to rewire trade and developmental aid globally. The MMSEZ mega-project is linked to China’s Global South development narrative, and links to China’s da Yuanzu, or “going out” as a global economic strategy to reconfigure the geographical epicentre of the world economy to China, rather than the Global North. Central to the strategy is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The policy paper focuses on infrastructure led industrialisation in the Global South through Special Economic Zones. Two main aspects are examined, namely the impact on the environment and on local communities, given that the Zones are purported …
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address revealed a new direction in economic policy: “import substitution industrialisation”: producing goods locally where possible. The approach was most effective from 1933-1945, during South Africa’s first modern manufacturing boom. The era featured an average 8% annual gross domestic product growth, more economic balance, and even improved racial equity in wages.
The need for local sovereignty is today even greater, given the deindustrialisation-driven jobs bloodbath underway. But Pretoria’s residual economic schizophrenia is remarkable, especially thanks to wasteful subsidies for Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
The Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) bloc met late last year in Brasilia, just more than a year after the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation summit in Beijing. These two bodies are seeking to generate a new Global South-South development policy narrative, even though Brics host — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — mimics United States President Donald Trump’s hostility to multilateralism, and China’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth and imports slowed to the lowest levels in 40 years.
One thing all these institutions — plus the G20 countries — agree on: South Africa needs more special economic zones (SEZs), which grant generous subsidies to both Brics and Western corporations.
The SEZ export fetish conforms to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s policy paper, Economic Transformation, Inclusive Growth, and Competitiveness. “Export orientation and sophistication are key drivers of long-run economic growth. South Africa needs to promote export competitiveness and actively pursue regional growth opportunities in order to leverage global and regional value chains for export growth. Technologically sophisticated exports, in particular, are crucial to structural transformation as they enable the economy to move from low- to high-productivity activities,” it reads.
Series: Adverse International and Local Conditions for Sub-Saharan Africa (Part 4)
In addition to China, Africa is meant to be one of the most critical markets for South Africa’s SEZs, and attracting other investment, trade and finance to the continent was one justification for entering the BRICS bloc, according to Jacob Zuma and his colleagues.
Series: Adverse International and Local Conditions for Sub-Saharan Africa (Part 3)
The most crucial factor in whether South African SEZs succeed may well be the complicated role of China.
There are three aspects worth discussing: overall demand; Chinese incoming FDI to South African SEZs (such as is driving Coega and Musina-Makhado); and Chinese-financed and built competition via the Belt & Road Initiative, which is spawning massive export-oriented infrastructure in many India Ocean cities, ports and hinterlands.