Winner: Gwede Mantashe; Runners-up: UPL & Shell

Winner: Gwede Mantashe; Runners-up: UPL & Shell
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Ntswe Mokoena / GCIS)

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s views on coal and gas are filthy.

The winner of SA Polluter of the Year is Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe, according to votes by Our Burning Planet readers.

Responsible for a portfolio that already oversees some of the most environmentally destructive and harmful practices from seismic blasting to open-cast coal mining, Mantashe started off at a disadvantage, but seemingly cemented his position as polluter-in-chief over the course of the year.

A recently leaked CSIR study obtained by Reuters showed that “more than 5,000 South Africans die annually in the nation’s coal belt because the government has failed to fully enforce its own air-quality standards”. Nearly a quarter of households in the region, where 3.6 million people live, have children with persistent asthma.

Despite the health and environmental implications of continued coal use, Mantashe’s department – as custodian of the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP 2019) – still intends to add even more coal to the energy mix.

The IRP 2019 provides for 1,500MW of additional coal power by the year 2030. Coal currently supplies 75% of the country’s electricity and the government has made the commitment to reduce that to 60% by 2030.  

A new study released by the Energy Systems Research Group at the University of Cape Town has found, however, that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy plans to procure this 1,500MW of new coal-powered electricity will cost at least R23-billion more than a least cost optimal electricity plan, and will result in 25,000 economy-wide job losses by 2030.

Mantashe and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy have tried to combat discontent regarding the addition of coal into SA’s future energy mix by offering “clean coal” technologies as a palliative.

In a recent tweet Mantashe said: “We must continue to invest in cleaner coal technologies and innovation and make sure that these options are not kept under the radar. Some work is happening in this regard, and we need to intensify this effort.”

But while Mantashe is pushing “clean coal” technology, his Cabinet colleagues have been meeting with climate envoys from the US and Europe to explore opportunities to finance and support South Africa in its green energy ambitions.

While the rest of the world look to rapidly exit the era of unabated fossil fuel consumption, Mantashe at the Africa Energy Week, held from 9 to 12 November in Cape Town, said Africans should seize the moment and position African oil and gas “at the forefront of global energy growth”. Co-opting the rhetoric of pan-Africanism and anti-imperialism, he railed against a developed Global North, explaining that Africa was being “encircled” by “rich and powerful” nations intent on unfairly seeking to stifle the beneficiation of Africa’s oil and gas reserves and the economic development that would follow.

Mantashe continued, “Our continent, collectively, and her individual countries, is made to bear the brunt of the heavy polluters. We are being pressured, even compelled, 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 Africa oil and gas at the forefront of global energy growth.’”

An article in New Frame best sums up the inherent hypocrisy in this position, noting that by looking at who is exploring and extracting oil and gas on the continent both historically and now, Mantashe “will find it is almost entirely dominated by companies from the Global North”. One needn’t look much further than Royal Dutch Shell, currently at the centre of controversy over its activity off of South Africa’s coast.

Though Mantashe is correct to lay the blame for historical emissions that have brought the planet to the brink of crisis at the doorstep of the developed world, it is African countries who already are and are projected to increasingly bear the brunt of climate change. Southern Africa is already heating at twice the global average.

Mantashe has also recently been party to the formation of the Energy Council of SA, which Mantashe said would act as the “one voice for the energy sector”. A worrying statement considering the current composition of the energy council.

Its chairperson is Fleetwood Grobler, president and CEO of Sasol, SA’s second-biggest polluter and a major coal user. Although open to those in the renewable energy sector, its executive is led by the CEOs of major fossil fuel companies such as Eskom, Exxaro, TotalEnergies SA and Anglo American. DM168

A drone image showing the extent of the damage caused to the UPL warehouse in northern Durban on 21 July 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)


The 14,000m² storage facility of UPL, formerly known as United Phosphorus Limited, went up in smoke during the July unrest. Although arsonists lit the matches and hurled the petrol bombs, questions are being asked as to whether this absolves the Indian agrochemicals giant from all legal responsibility because of its alleged failure to secure mandatory environmental approvals, or compliance with Major Hazardous Installation regulations, city planning by-laws and a Certificate of Registration for the storage of flammable substances.

Hundreds of protesters at Muizenberg corner protest against the 3D seismic survey commissioned by Shell along the East Coast on 5 December 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)


Shell has drawn the ire of communities and environmental activists across SA in recent weeks over its Wild Coast seismic survey. The survey area is in water depths that range between 700m and 3km. The survey will be conducted by underwater seismic airgun blasts. Scientists and environmentalists have raised concerns about the “disastrous effects” of these assessments on marine organisms, animals and the environment. DM168



Every year, Daily Maverick puts its mind to the question of who we should recognise in our annual Persons of the Year categories.

In the past, these decisions have been made after a bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but this year, we decided to do things a little differently. We had the bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but simply to arrive at a shortlist of nominees in each category. Using a new reader engagement tool called Hearken, we asked our online readers to cast their votes on who they think deserves the final nod. We also gave readers the option to choose their own candidate in any category in case they thought we had neglected anyone more worthy. The results were both expected and surprising.

On the whole, readers agreed with our shortlisted candidates, with a few exceptions. We had not considered Greta Thunberg as a candidate for International Person of the Year, but so many readers nominated her that she earned enough mentions to be a runner-up in that category.

Many objected to us only focusing on singers for our Artist of the Year and objected to the predominance of foreign singers in the category. Quite a few readers were critical of us leaving out African women and female contenders in general.

The journalists at Daily Maverick were mentioned several times as nominees for different categories of People of the Year – ah, thanks for the love, guys, but this time around we wanted to cast our net outside our inner circle.

The more than 800 readers who voted totally exceeded our expectations, because this was the first time we have opened People of the Year to readers’ votes.

Below are the categories. Read about the winners and runners-up in various categories below.

  • South African Person of the Year – a person who has had the broadest or most significant impact on the country as a whole.
  • Africa Person of the Year – a person who has made an outstanding contribution on the African continent this year.
  • International Person of the Year – a person who has had broad international impact or made an outstanding contribution this year.
  • South African Villain of the Year – there was no shortage of suggestions in this self-explanatory category…
  • International Villain of the Year – as above, but drawn from foreign fields.
  • South African Businessperson of the Year – not necessarily the person who made the biggest profit, but someone whose influence went beyond the balance sheets.
  • Community Champion of the Year – someone uplifting, defending and representing ordinary South Africans, often against all odds.
  • South African Polluter of the Year – individuals and entities which have succeeded in further dirtying our environment this year.
  • Our Burning Planet Heroes of the Year – the green warriors fighting for our planet’s survival.
  • South African Youth Champion of the Year – young people working to improve the lot of other young people.
  • Sportsperson of the Year – a sportsperson whose positive impact has been felt either on or off the field.
  • Sports Team of the Year – a team that has stood out from the rest in 2021 either on or off the field.
  • Artist of the Year – a hitmaker whose musical or social influence has towered above others.
  • Moegoe of the Year – someone whose behaviour perhaps falls short of Villain of the Year, but who has in some way acted idiotically.
  • Grinch of the Year – someone who qualifies as a spoilsport or killjoy. – Rebecca Davis/DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Lorinda Winter says:

    Brilliant choice. He will most probably think it’s a compliment
    and what in the name of all that is sane, is he still doing in the cabinet! Remember how he threatened the Banks? Shees!

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

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