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Gwede Mantashe calls for a unified African fossil fuel front while rich world ‘encircles’ continent

Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)
By Ed Stoddard
09 Nov 2021 15

Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has once again come out swinging in defence of fossil fuels — this time with a call for African unity on the hydrocarbon front as the continent is ‘encircled’.

Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe called for “African solidarity” on Tuesday at the start of the Africa Energy Week conference in Cape Town, tapping into an anti-Western backlash that is brewing in some circles over the global drive towards renewable energy to stem the unfolding climate crisis.

“Globally, one summit after the other, certain industrialised countries refuse to jettison their use of fossil fuels. What had been pitted as global agreements lay hollow, as these countries keep postponing the deadlines of when they will shut down their coal mines and oil and gas industries, respectively,” said Mantashe. 

That statement is not false. There have been global pacts to address climate change that have been watered down, or ambitious targets that were not met, or major polluters that have pulled out because of political change. Witness what has happened in the US between alternating Republican and Democratic administrations on the issue. 

“The sad reality of this situation is that there has been preoccupation with Africa. Yet our Africa is the least polluter compared to the other continents. This is a sign of encirclement. Africa is being encircled by the rich and powerful,” he said. 

That statement is more questionable and pretty jarring coming at what is, after all, an investment conference. It suggests a new kind of predatory colonialism is afoot, but this time it comes with a green sheen. 

“Our continent, collectively, and her individual countries, is made to bear the brunt of the heavy polluters. We are being pressured, even compelled (italics added), to move away from all forms of fossil fuels — including resources such as gas, which have been regarded as key resources for industrialisation. Africa must seize the moment. We must, indeed, ‘Position(ing) Africa Oil and Gas at the forefront of global energy growth’,” he said in his prepared remarks. 

It is certainly true that Africa, the world’s poorest continent, is being hard hit by a climate crisis unleashed by the industrialisation of the rich world. But this narrative from a couple of decades ago — that emerging economies should not be subjected to the same emissions-cutting standards as wealthy nations — does not quite stand up the way it did when, say, the Kyoto pact was being negotiated. 

For one thing, the extent of the climate crisis has become even graver, according to the science and the lived experience of most people who spend any amount of time outdoors. 

China is also now the world’s second-biggest economy, and coal has been a big driver of that. And then there is South Africa, which still gets more than 80% of its electricity from coal, but can barely keep the lights on. No one but the most radical eco-warrior is calling for South Africa’s coal plants to close down tomorrow — it is widely acknowledged that the transition must be done over a period of time. 

Green energy technologies are becoming cheaper, more efficient, and exist in abundance in Africa. Yes, the continent has plenty of hydrocarbon resources. But it is also bisected by the equator.  

So the $8.5-billion deal struck at the COP26 climate conference in the UK to help South Africa with its green transition hardly evokes, say, King Leopold’s brutal thrust into the Congo for ivory and rubber — at a time when colonial powers were indeed encircling Africa. It looks more like a lifeline thrown in a more progressive age. 

“South Africa is rich with coal. Other African countries are endowed with oil and gas. Africa must invest in research and development in the exploration of these resources towards a clean environment,” Mantashe said. 

He went on to depict the history of oil in Africa in heroic terms.

“After the creation of the OPEC Fund for International Development in 1976, to assist developing countries with the challenge of the balance of payments, it was the African countries of Algeria, Nigeria, Gabon and Libya who pioneered an African solidarity solution. These four countries spearheaded the resolution that 4% of their oil produce would be reserved to assist non-oil producing African countries with their balance of payments challenges. Today requires a resolve on solidarity that is as solid as this one,” he said. 

There was no mention of the “resource curse” or how oil has been a fuel for corruption, state dysfunction and larceny on a grand scale in such countries. Perhaps the minister should ask slum dwellers in, say, Luanda, for their view of the oil industry and its role in providing “an African solidarity solution”. 

Mantashe also missed a crucial point: fewer and fewer bankers and investors want to sink capital into fossil fuels. The money is rapidly moving to renewables, and de-carbonised economies and industries are going to be far more competitive in the greener future because other economies and industries will actually want to buy their stuff. 

Mantashe’s speech evoked the past — often through a distorted lens — without seeing the future. DM/BM

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All Comments 15

  • I agree western hypocrisy and greed. But are fossil fuels working for us? Power cuts and very expensive fuel – we should use renewables because our dependence on oil is crippling. Mr Mantashe us good at swinging but not good at solving.

  • Everytime Mantashe opens his mouth he talks rubbish, like virtually all his colleagues from the ruling party. It is this obsession with fossil fuels why this country can’t produce enough electricity, and even then as massive inflated prices. Should have retired years ago, or at least go into hiding somewhere in Lulu Land

  • Minister Mantashe must immediately be replaced, his recalcitrance and dithering are significantly worsening the power crisis, he has actively impeded addressing the crisis due to his biases against renewable energy in particular. We need to open up the system to independent power producers as urgently as possible, he has impeded that. He is completely failing to take this crisis seriously!!! We need to enable individual households with solar power to sell back additional power bac into the grid. But he has persistently failed or refused to implement these initiatives, and pushes his own agendas. We need to take advantage of all of the financing, particularly renewable financing, to enable us to get power online as urgently as possible, and forms of power that will enable the country into the future.

    We need a real energy expert in the portfolio, not a politician who does not understand the issues, and refuses to acknowledge the realities of this crisis, both of energy, and the climate!

  • Your paranoia is terribly destructive Mr Mantashe.

    For you, for your children, for South Africa, and for the planet.

    Please do the right thing and let highly skilled and highly trained technical experts make the decisions around South Africa’s power future.

  • Richard, your message should be addressed to CR because he has the power and authority to remove him and put him somewhere far away where he can’t do any damage. But CR won’t remove one of his few friends in cabinet.

  • Geese Mantashe has consistently stood in the way of renewables- had they been introduced 2-3 years ago, when the new cabinet came in with the “reformer” Cyril Ramaphosa, we would have been in a better space now. All this ranting, while it contains some truth, is getting us nowhere fast

  • …and this is the man who is plotting the future for energy in SA. The man who is planning the ACTUAL survival of SA. Without electricity/energy, everything stops. EVERYTHING. Literally. As they say in the classics “kan iemand die ding dart”

  • Minister Mantashe thinks that by invoking the classic energy sources we might get the much needed economic growth to happen (no, Medupi and Kusile were more like economic suicide), but by his outdated rhetoric and buraeucratic gatekeeping, he keeps the handbrake up on our economy.

  • Utter rubbish get rid of this dinosaur. Liars….looters….disgrace!!!! No mr. Mantashe the people of SA is NOT interested in your ideas anymore. I trust the international community knows of his divisive plans as usual. No more looting its done!!!!

  • Gwede “The lights are on but nobody’s home” Mantashe won’t live long enough to see the devasting effects still to come because of global warming. Playing the “colonial” card will never end.

  • Fight the fight minister against this nonsense “Africa must seize the moment. We must, indeed, ‘Position(ing) Africa Oil and Gas at the forefront of global energy growth’,”

    On principle I’m 100% behind you

  • As the Minister in charge of the country which generates 45% of Africas hydrocarbon pollution, “ring fencing” is irrelevant!
    Until such time as we Africans decide to address pollution for what it is doing to our childrens heritage, we will remain in an ever decreasingly healthy and more dangerous state.
    I doubt Mantashe has the ability to understand this sentiment. He has shown an unwillingness to remove the blinkers

  • Dear Minister Mantashe, you and whichever African allies you can rope up to form an opposition against the Western powers might allow the coal power stations to lurch on for another few agonizing years. But the fact is that the tide has turned and the West and other powers simply aren’t going to buy goods from any country with a high carbon footprint. So if your concern is keeping maybe a few hundred thousand coal miners’ jobs, you need to weigh that against the entire SA manufacturing sector.