Earthcrimes: Limpopo’s dirty great white elephant (Part One)

By Sam Sole for amaBhungane

Government’s plan to develop a R40bn Chinese-controlled energy and metallurgical industrial complex at the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone in Limpopo is founded on quicksand.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) outsourced the development and management of a coal-burning, water-guzzling, capital-soaking, heavy industrial zone in Limpopo to an obscure Hong Kong-based businessman, Yat Hoi Ning, who was removed as chief executive of his previous company amid allegations of misconduct and fraud.

The DTI did this despite there being publicly available information on the allegations against Ning and his associates; despite no feasibility study being done on the project; and despite the environmental pre-feasibility study identifying critical environmental issues such as the project’s high water requirements in a water-scarce area.

Killing the Holy Ghost: Inside the R145bn plan that would destroy the Limpopo River

By Kevin Bloom

When Vasco da Gama anchored off the mouth of the Limpopo River in 1498, he named it Espiritu Santo. Around 520 years later, a Chinese businessman wanted by Interpol would do a deal with the South African government to build an 8,000ha Special Economic Zone on the river’s southern bank. The dealmakers would keep many secrets from the ancestral claimants to the land, including their unholy plans for a coal-fired power station. 

I. Points of Power

There were many things that the 67-slide PowerPoint presentation failed to explain, but the most glaring omission was the likely impact on the Limpopo River.There was, for instance, an artist’s impression of a 3,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant, but nowhere in the slides was there an indication of what this would do to Africa’s eighth-largest watercourse.

Under the Veil of a Virus


It is not just nature that has begun to fill the spaces we have vacated, highly contested regulations are being passed now, having evaded the proper public participation processes due to the emergency Covid-19 lockdown.

We are used to conspiratorial manipulation of public downtime by minister Gwede Mantashe to shunt through mining legislation and regulation – more on this later – but now we see the same from environmental minister Barbara Creecy. 

Today South Africa’s planned emission limits for sulphur dioxide (SO2) pollution will double. Our Department of Environmental Affairs has prioritized the coal boilers of Africa’s two biggest polluters, Eskom and Sasol, over our rights to a clean environment. Exposure to 100 parts of SO2 per million parts of air (100 ppm) is considered immediately dangerous to life and health. These new emission standards will allow 381.6 ppm – nearly 4 times this. Studies have linked SO2to low birth weight in infants and an increased risk for premature deaths, gestational diabetes mellitus, stillbirths, and pre-term births. Sulphur dioxide causes acid rain and those living near these boilers complain of burning of the nose and throat, eye irritation, breathing difficulties, and severe airway obstructions. These impacts pose a substantial risk to the vulnerable and poor especially in days facing the coronavirus pandemic.


By Christopher Rutledge – MACUA WAMUA Advice Office

In what can be described as a diabolical conjuring of the dark arts of authoritarian governance, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, published new amendments to the Mineral Resources Development Act (MPRDA) on the first day of the Covid-19 emergency lockdown.

The behaviour of the Minister follows a now well beaten pattern of underhanded dealings with the public dating back to the first attempt to amend the MPRDA in 2012.  During this initial attempt to further exclude communities, Section23 (2A) of the MPRDA , which gives the Minister of Mineral Resources the power to impose conditions to promote the rights and interests of communities in the event of an application (Granting and Duration of Mining Right) that affects their land, the DMR (as it was then) proposed the deletion of this specific mandate, including conditions requiring the participation of the community, from the existing clause.

Cyril’s industrial reboot will not drive economy to success

president Cyril Ramaphosa
president Cyril Ramaphosa

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 fable of SA’s special economic zones

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.

A look at China’s big plans for Limpopo and why locals should be concerned

China is set to construct a massive industrial zone in Limpopo over the next five years

China and South Africa have entered into a large-scale industrial agreement which will take root in Limpopo over the next five years.

Much has been written about South Africa’s power pandemic, which currently sits uneasily at the crossroads of sustainable production and ethical liability. Recent deals struck between President Cyril Ramaphosa and Chinese president, Xi Jinping, point in a worrying direction, in defiance of South Africa’s much anticipated renewable energy revolution.