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.

Earthcrimes: Limpopo’s dirty white elephant, Part Three: Limpopo – the weakest link

By Sam Sole for amaBhungane

Conflicted Limpopo agencies charged with policing a proposed Chinese-run industrial zone are not up to the task. Exhibit A: the wildly skewed operator agreement.

On 2 March 2017 an “operator agreement” was signed between the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and a Chinese company called Shenzhen Hoimor Resources Holding Company.

The SEZ was represented by Tshepo Phetla, then acting chief executive of the Limpopo Economic Development Agency (LEDA), while Shenzhen Hoimor was represented by Hong Kong businessman Yat Hoi Ning.

Read Limpopo’s dirty great white elephant and Limpopo’s dirty white elephant part 2: the dodgy designation for more on Ning’s controversial background and the appointment of his company as the operator for a R40-billion coal-powered mineral processing zone.

The operator agreement is disturbing in the way in which it mortgages responsibility for this mega-project to an unknown foreign entity.

No registration number for Shenzhen Hoimor is included in the formal document and amaBhungane was unable to trace the company.

EarthCrimes – Limpopo’s dirty white elephant, Part Two: The dodgy designation

By Sam Sole for amaBhungane

How a Chinese company hijacked the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone.

Documents obtained via an access to information request show that shady Hong Kong businessman Yat Hoi Ning boarded the strategic economic zone (SEZ) train without a ticket.

An SEZ is a designated zone where there are special rules on tax, export incentives and other benefits to encourage investment and trade.

The documents were obtained from the department of trade and industry (DTI) by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), which is challenging environmental aspects of the planned R40-billion energy and minerals complex just south of the border town of Musina in Limpopo.

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.