Policy brief 3 by Lisa Thompson and Hazel Shirinda


The core of China’s Foreign Policy in Africa strategy is setting up Special Economic Zones as part of the establishment of what is known as the Belt and Road Initiative. The BRI strategy of International Developmental Assistance (IDA) combines trade and infrastructural investment through low interest rate loans and Chinese private company and State-Owned Enterprise Assistance from China. This is marketed by China’s state leader Xi Jing Ping and top political leadership as a new Global South form of Inclusive Development that is both compatible and synergistic with UN sustainable development goals. Chinese mega-infrastructural road and rail projects are frequently linked to SEZ mega-projects.

The proposed Musina Makhado SEZ (MMSEZ) and its linkages to the upgrading of South Africa’s transport corridors to Durban, Richards Bay and into the SADC region, provides a perfect example of

this form of Inclusive Development. The expansion of BRI along with the establishment of the Chinese model of SEZs combines huge Foreign Direct Investment Incentives in the geographically designated Zones linked to technologically advanced rail and upgraded road networks. This is the main development strategy of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and is closely intertwined with the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The FOCAC driven vision of an integrated Africa, linked to Eurasia through Belt and Road, is the direct motivation for Cyril Ramaphosa’s promotion on the Musina-Makhado SEZ on his return from the FOCAC Summit in Beijing in September 2018.

According to FOCACs official Declarations, Inclusive Development is ‘people-centred’ and Chinese and African bilateral cooperation is characterised by ‘win-win’ projects of mutual benefit to both countries. Therefore, both IDA and Inclusive Development are positioned in direct contrast to Northern forms of Aid, where states in the …



Policy brief 2 by Lisa Thompson and Hazel Shirinda


The aim of this policy brief is to both frame and contextualise the ways in which South African development policies are being directly and indirectly influenced by global power dynamics, such as China’s steady rise to economic power. These power shifts began well before COVID 19, but the pandemic has both amplified the hegemonic shifts and has shifted the balance of global economic power towards the Peoples Republic of China.

The United States of America and the European Union form the core of what is known as the Global North. China, through the formation of various institutional blocs in South-East Asia and Africa, has gradually brought into currency the term Global South to encourage geostrategic re-alignments of state and non-state actors.

These realignments have ushered in a new terrain of global rivalry between China and the U.S., described by many analysts as a new Cold War. The Economist, reporting on the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th birthday on 1 July 2021 reports:

“…it was alarming to hear the loud applause and cheers that greeted Xi Jinping on July 1st…. at Tiananmen Square, China’s leader had just pledged that any foreigner who tried to bully China would ‘dash their heads against a Great Wall of steel, forged from the flesh and blood of over 1.4bn Chinese people’. The party crushes individual liberties with despotic ruthlessness. Yet its leaders are sure that they govern with the consent of the vast majority. As a result they claim to enjoy as much legitimacy as any democracy.”

The construction of the Global North/Global South has major implications for Africa, because …

Scenes from the Frontline: The Days that Durban Burned.

Durban violence

Let’s face facts, as a nation we expected fallout from the incarceration of ex-President Jacob Zuma, at the same time as we cheered the ConCourt for this long overdue course of justice. Yet none of us, myself as a political analyst included, were prepared for the incendiary violence that began the night of July 11. I arrived in the absolute epicentre of the chaos on Monday morning the 12th of July at King Shaka airport. It was eerily quiet, all shops at the airport were closed and there were hardly any taxis. The friend who was to fetch me had to turn around as so many roads were closed. I was stuck and stymied. What to do next?

Finally, a BOLT arrived for a man going to Ballito and I hitched a ride, unsure of where I was going. My driver, Ntuthuko Vincent Malamba from Amanzimtoti, who remains my personal hero of the day, promised me that the he could get me to the Bluff. Are you sure? I questioned over and over as I had heard the CBD was a warzone and we had to drive through it as the other roads were still blocked. “Don’t worry”, said Ntuthuko, “it has turned to looting in the CBD now, they aren’t interested in anything else, we will be fine”. He was right. We drove straight through the CBD where groups were congregated wearing designer clothing and deciding where to next to go for some free shopping. Nobody was carrying food, nobody cared about us. Ntuthuko constantly reassured me of this, when my fear was clearly radiating as brightly as the red traffic light that halted us for what seemed like eternity.

I arrived safe on the Bluff to see groups of civilians of mixed ethnicity standing in front of shops …

A view of the proposed Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone MMSEZ) from Hazel Shirinda, MsC Candidate In Environmental Science and Environmental Activist in Limpopo Province

By Hazel Shirinda

As part of Limpopo province community, how do I see the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone and its effects on my community and others in Limpopo province? 

The MMSEZ is located some +100km from my town (Malamulele). The activities of the project will affect me and my community both directly and indirectly. While we get water from a dam called Nandoni, our water sources will most likely not be affected by the activities of the project in the short term. It remains to be seen how the MMSEZ could leech aquifers in the region. Many of the people from the villages surrounding mine (well including, my village) work in some of the farms that will potentially be affected by the project and the water crisis. So, this implies potential job losses in the long run when the water challenge really starts to kick in, which will most likely be in a couple of years after the project’s initial operations. It is very likely that the beginning stages of the MMSEZs operations will rely on underground aquifers, while other options are tried to resolve the chronic water shortages issues the MMSEZ operations will raise

What bothers me the most about the MMSEZ? Environmental concerns.

My main concern, as an Environmental Scientist, is the environmental concern that comes with the project. The Limpopo valley is a very rich place with a lot of native fauna and flora that are highly valued by the locals. Now for the commencement of the project, around 109 000 baobab trees will be uprooted and moved to a new designated location. This to me is very concerning, coupled with the fact that many animals will be relocated also, thereby disrupting ecosystems services and functioning.

Limpopo struggles economically. The MMSEZ has been marketed as an opportunity for



Policy brief by Lisa Thompson and Hazel Shirinda


Over the last decade, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been promoted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Bank as effective mechanisms for ensuring growth across the developing world. According to UNCTADs 2019 World Investment Report, SEZs have a long history, dating back as far as the 1960s, but even prior to that, the concept of free ports goes back centuries (UNCTAD WIR, 2019: 127)

The SEZ model has gained popularity as a result of China’s use of the Zones to ensure rapid industrialization and diversification of manufactured products. The first SEZ in China is the Shenzhen SEZ, now a thriving smart city used as an example of what SEZs can add to Global South Development.

China’s developmental influence has been expanded by a number of forms of institutional cooperation. These include the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the BRICS bloc (Brazil Russia-China-India-South Africa). In this way, China has championed the notion and activation of the Global South.


The term Global South refers to a new configuration of global geostrategic power, led by China. The rise of the alignment of states that refer to themselves as part of Global South is linked to China’s economic leadership role in the world economy. The Global South alignment is thus tactical, as part of the geostrategic (as opposed to geographic) South, to balance the power of the United States and Europe (the Global North) (Brautigam, 2009).

Inspired by the Chinese use of SEZs, and stronger institutional linkages through BRICS and FOCAC, South Africa …

Public participation is a farce in Musina-Makhado project

Lisa Thompson  Meshack Mbangula

After three public participation rounds in September and October 2020 and in January 2021 it is hard to imagine that the directive for more thorough public participation on the Environmental Impact Assessment Report for the proposed Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone could go wrong again. Yet, last week, the meetings exploded as people vented their frustration about inadequate information on the zone.

Ironically, South Africa’s legislation on inclusion is the best in the world, especially on issues of sustainable development and the environment. The National Environmental Management Act (Nema) is inspired by international best practice on participatory sustainable development.

Nema founding principles in chapter 1 state, “… the participation of all interested and affected parties in environmental governance must be promoted, and all people must have the opportunity to develop the understanding, skills and capacity necessary for achieving equitable and effective participation, and participation by vulnerable and disadvantaged persons must be ensured”.

Yet despite the enormity of the MMSEZ in terms of its effect on people, livelihoods and the environment, as field interviews in March 2021 yet again exposed, no attempt was made by Delta Built Environment Consultants (Delta BEC) and the Limpopo Economic Development Agency (LEDA) prior to the meetings to inform people of the details of the project. In meetings with key affected groups, the Mulambwane and Mudimeli, leaders expressed outrage at the lack of information and inclusion and have approached the LEDA for focus group meetings.

The Sham of the Public Participation Process on the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (SEZ) 14-19 September 2020

Meshack Mbangula, Hazel Shirinda and Lisa Thompson

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Musina Makhado Special Economic Zone (SEZ) echoes the promises made by government backed mega projects in the Global South. Multinational companies, endorsed by governments for the fiscal kickbacks, commit to alleviate people’s poverty where the primary goal is to shift their need for Africa’s rich mineral resources and to offset their national carbon footprint. The Musina Makhado SEZ, or MMSEZ as it is now called by government, is a perfect case in point. The SEZ will be the first in South Africa to be operated by a foreign (Chinese) company, Hoi Mor Shenzhen. This will mean an unprecedented level of foreign control over the SEZ. To make matters worse, of the proposed industries in the metallurgical cluster, nearly all of them are carbon intensive, environmentally destructive and a threat to the livelihoods of communities in the medium term due to the health implications of such large CO2 emitters

The high-level EIA, as it is called, was completed by the Delta Built Environment Consortium (Delta BEC) and made public in September 2020. While admitting the environmentally harmful nature of the SEZ, it is still a self-justificatory document. The EIA assessment glosses over the endemic water scarcity issues in the Limpopo Valley stating “… if insufficient water is available in the catchment, and the social and economic opportunities offered by the SEZ operation are sufficiently attractive, additional water may be brought in from a neighbouring catchment”.

Although not unexpected, but still shocking in its lack of community buy-in, is the public participation process that has just taken place. All large-scale developmental initiatives, especially those with huge community impacts, should abide by the principle of “free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)” so that those affected communities can engage from

Killing the Holy Ghost: Limpopo’s Musina-Makhado SEZ – A not-so-go zone?

By Brandon Abdinor

The draft environmental impact assessment (EIA) report on the controversial proposed Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone was released on 1 September, and public participation meetings started in Limpopo and Tshwane in the week of 14 September 2020. Input from community members and other interested parties saw powerful questions and concerns being added to the sensible and potentially prohibitive ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ raised by the report’s expert authors.

Also read Kevin Bloom’s two-part series on the SEZ: Part 1, Killing the Holy Ghost: Inside the R145bn plan that would destroy the Limpopo River, is here and Part 2, How a R10.7bn “zero waste” megaproject was buried by Limpopo’s Chinese deal is here.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the COVID-19 crisis

Coronavirus represents both a demand and a supply shock to the global economy. The key question is which assets are exposed most to shock and to the associated volatility? The BRI focuses largely on physical infrastructure that is declining as a priority. The shock has produced a significant stimulus to digital versus physical connectivity. The need for physical infrastructure declines where digital connectivity can substitute for physical contact.

EarthCrimes – The dirty white elephant, Part Four: Caution, environmental hazard

By Sam Sole for amaBhungane

The development of a coal-burning, water-guzzling industrial zone is a potential threat to the roughly 18-million people in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique who depend on the Limpopo river watershed.

An introduction carried on the website for the Chinese-led “Energy and Metallurgical Special Economic Zone” (EMSEZ) in Northern Limpopo lists the range of heavy industries planned.

They include a coal washing plant capable of processing 20 million tonnes per annum, a coal-fired power plant of 3,300MW, a coking coal plant, a ferrochrome plant, a ferromanganese plant, a stainless-steel plant, a lime plant and a titanium dioxide plant.

See Limpopo’s dirty great white elephantLimpopo’s dirty white elephant part 2: the dodgy designation and The dirty white elephant part 3: Limpopo – the weakest link, for more on the extraordinary genesis of this project.

The EMSEZ introduction helpfully notes, “Limpopo river is 30 kilometer away from the SEZ which is the important water source for the SEZ”.

But the reality is the river is already overstretched.