South Africa does need development, but not “another white elephant”


The following letter was sent in by Ms Peta Jones in response to the Zoutpansberger’s front-page article of 18 September (Yea or Nay for SEZ?):

The meeting at Mulambwane attended by Mr Wally Schultz was also attended by me, and his account is mostly accurate.  What he does not say, and what the participants in the meeting mostly failed to hear – because they did not want to – were a couple of significant points.  I make some here but enlarge on them from my own reading of the massive ‘Draft Environmental Report’, made available by Limpopo Economic Development Agency (LEDET) only days before. This report was much more thorough and competent than the one produced in August last year, about which I complained, but still suffers from relying on information which it admits to be out of date.  Significantly, the information about weather and water availability, among other things, predates a lot of what we now know to be effects of climate change when wind belts started shifting in response to the melting of the Antarctic icecap.  Residents of the Limpopo Valley, especially in the Bokmakierie area, can testify that there is no longer ANY surface water available, and ground water has nearly disappeared.  There is no reason to suppose that the situation is any different on the other side of the Limpopo, from which MMSEZ is proposing to get water.

So, resource availability is under question.  Also under question is the atmospheric impact of the proposed thermal power plant and eight or so processing plants for the refinement of different minerals useful to South African industry.  According to the maps in the report, the whole of Mopane village, its station, shops and boarding school will be subjected to very high levels of various poisons in the atmosphere, implying serious risks to child and adult health.

LEDET maintains that it will require certain conditions to be met before approval is given, but it has not said what these conditions are.  At the very least, for both residences and industry they would have to be (1) close to zero water use and full recycling, and (2) zero atmospheric emission and full recycling of wastes.

It is possible, or will soon be possible, and adherence to such conditions could ensure that, instead of becoming a huge blot on the landscape, endangering even those travelling south on the N1, it could attract tourists and others keen to see how South Africa is dealing with its challenges.

The Chinese are well ahead with such technologies, but if South Africa wants to provide jobs for its youth, it too must get involved with such technical developments. It was clear at the Mulambwane meeting that the young people of South Africa have not fully taken on board the current realities of job creation: they must create their own and be equipped to do so.

The heavy Chinese investment in the project could have such a result, but the history of Chinese investment rather suggests that (a) they will employ their own people during the ‘construction phase’, estimated in this case to occupy 9 years, and (b) if they cannot meet the set conditions, or if the climate change has even further limited their access to resources, at some stage they will simply pull out, abandoning everything half done and unreconstructed, provide yet another example of South Africa’s unique animal: the white elephant. Many born during the apartheid era are still to be seen around.  (Mulambwane itself is another, slightly postdating apartheid.)

The shouting youths were pacified by the announcement that the project would begin by December this year, but few people seemed to stop and think just what would be beginning so soon.

South Africa certainly does need to be processing its own minerals, certainly does need to provide employment opportunities in Limpopo, and the situation of Bokmakierie in some ways (mainly communications) make it the ideal choice. Not for another white elephant, however.

I hope that you are also able to arrange for discussion of this in the Limpopo Mirror. Let there be no more cries of “We don’t care about health and the environment, just give us jobs!” and instead “Teach us what jobs we can do to improve our environments and mitigate climate change”.