South Africa

ANALYSIS

Gwede Mantashe vs academia and activism (and the media, and the world)

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Moeletsi Mabe)

In a recent interview, Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe made bizarre claims about an international NGO, University of Cape Town research units, civil society and the media working together to ‘destabilise’ his department. Huh?

In an interview with City Press published on 23 January, Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe claimed he was a politician under attack. 

The forces acting against him are not ANC factions, as one might expect — but entities running an alleged anti-Mantashe conspiracy within academia and activism, aided by the “predominantly white liberal media”. 

If you’re confused, so was everyone Daily Maverick spoke to about this article. Attempts to seek clarity from Mantashe himself did not meet with success. 

The most baffling claims made by Mantashe in the interview were as follows: 

The minister said his department was monitoring funds from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation in the UK, “which is channelled to an institution based in the University of Cape Town [UCT], which funds a number of projects including aspects of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research [CSIR] and other civil society groups to destabilise the work of the department”.

“But because we are aware, we can confront it. The money is from the UK, goes through UCT — through an institution I will not name — which channels the money to the CSIR and civil society [organisations]. The fact that we are aware makes us able to actually deal with the reality that we are confronted with.” 

He said the department was in possession of a detailed report from the CSIR, “which we got hold of and that outlines those details”. 

“Don’t ask me how we got hold of that report,” he said. 

Phew. Let’s start at the top. 

The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) terms itself as the world’s largest child-focused philanthropic organisation, and it has a global footprint. When Daily Maverick contacted its London headquarters this week to ask if the CIFF was aware it was at the centre of allegations by the South African mineral resources minister, a CIFF spokesperson declined to comment.

CIFF’s website, however, provided a few more clues as to what Mantashe might be on about. Between July 2018 and December 2020, CIFF gave a grant of $675,000 (just more than R10.3-million) to “support reforms and climate-linked financing to facilitate the just energy transition” in South Africa. 

CIFF’s partners in this project are listed as the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Meridian Economics, which describes itself as “a specialised economics advisory group and think tank providing executive-level decision support, strategic advice and analytics capabilities”. 

This think tank appears to do what think tanks tend to do, namely, produce papers analysing public policy and making recommendations, with a focus on energy and infrastructure. It is not connected to UCT. 

Mantashe then claims that the CIFF gives money to “an institution based in the University of Cape Town”, which then funnels the money to other projects to “destabilise” his department’s work. 

A spokesperson for UCT, Nombuso Shabalala, told Daily Maverick that the university “will be engaging with Mr Mantashe to understand if he was quoted correctly in the news article and the nature of the allegations, in order that we can investigate fully as the allegations are serious”. 

UCT rejects the insinuation that it “funnels money to agencies that undermine the minister’s office” as “false”. 

The spokesperson said: “All funding received by UCT is very closely governed and scrutinised. Ethical behaviour is expected from all who receive and use funding for academic work.” 

Mantashe further claimed that a key player in this alleged conspiracy was the CSIR and that a leaked report from the CSIR laid out “those details”. 

CSIR spokesperson Tendani Tsedu was quoted by City Press as saying that the organisation was unaware of the issues raised.

Tsedu also said: “As the CSIR, we have a good relationship with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.” 

With all the bodies listed by Mantashe as part of this sinister plan being either baffled, silent, or baffled into silence, Daily Maverick embarked on its own journey of speculation. 

It seems possible that the “institution” within UCT which Mantashe is fingering as attempting to foil his plans is the Energy Systems Research Group, which revealed in 2021 that Mantashe’s continued plans to add more coal to South Africa’s energy mix would cost around R23-billion more than some other options and cause 25,000 job losses by 2030. 

The group also submitted research to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) in February 2021 which suggested that new nuclear power would “cost the fiscus more, produce fewer jobs and take longer to meet South Africa’s energy needs than other energy options”. This was in response to Eskom’s proposed procurement of 2,500MW of new nuclear capacity.

The persecutory claims made by Mantashe should thus be seen in the context of the minister’s increasingly lonely crusade to beef up South Africa’s reliance on coal — in marked contrast to most countries that claim to be taking climate change seriously — and further expand its nuclear capacity. 

Throughout his tenure as minister, Mantashe has had a fractious relationship with researchers and environmental groups, whose court challenges have on several occasions successfully thwarted his plans. 

In late 2021 he accused environmentalists of turning the people of the Eastern Cape against Shell’s planned seismic survey off the Wild Coast, saying: “They mobilise you to say you don’t want all of that [the Shell survey] because you love your butterflies, you love your mountains and your grass, so this must stop.” 

The fact that some of the work on South African energy being done by local research groups and academic units is foreign-funded is no secret. 

Most of South Africa’s major public universities, as well as universities across the African continent, receive much-needed funding from international philanthropic bodies: UCT receives money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal from the Rockefeller Foundation. 

In fact, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s (Dirco’s) Ghaleeb Jeppie explicitly encouraged universities to go to global NGOs for funding in 2019 because there was less direct aid available from foreign governments.  

“There is a need to tap into extra-budgetary resources from the private sector, philanthropic entities, international organisations and global funds,” Jeppie said. 

The funding crisis in SA universities has since been exacerbated by Covid-19, with the Higher Education Department’s Blade Nzimande telling Parliament in August 2020 that the financial impact of the pandemic on university expenditure was at that point more than R3.8-billion. 

Sadly, Mantashe is by no means the first embattled ANC politician to reference a dubious “report” as offering evidence of plotting against him. 

Neither is he the first to make baseless claims against local universities. 

In April 2019, the then Dirco minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, claimed in a public lecture given at the University of KwaZulu-Natal that the University of the Witwatersrand was “heavily funded by the Israeli government”. She gave no information as to the source of this claim, which erstwhile Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib described as “absolute nonsense”.

Habib added that Sisulu was “in violation of her oath as a minister for knowingly misrepresenting the state of affairs at a public university”. DM

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All Comments 21

  • Thanks for being clear where DM is on a journey of speculation. Let me state categorically that UCT’s ESRG has not received any funding from the CIFF, nor has it passed any money through to the CSIR. Our interest is to produce rigorous analysis in the public interest.

    • And I should add this: we have high respect for our scientist colleagues at the CSIR, and no reason to doubt the sincerity or competency with which CIFF executes its mandate.

  • I think the phrase “a few screws loose” best describes this situation and Gweezy’s befuddled brain. Surely it is about time this show-back to a truly Stalinist era was put out to grass?

    Surely there must be a shabeen somewhere in need of a resident fruit-cake?

  • The Minister is unable to respond to facts that are presented in research, his only response is to try and undermine the institutions and entities that question of the soundness and benefit of the projects that he so vigorously promotes. His statements and antics get increasingly bizarre, the more frustrated that he gets that anyone questions or seeks to stop the projects that he is pushing.

  • This makes perfect ANC-sense. Science and research and generous donors can be ridiculed and undermined at will. What matters is that power-crazy ANC ministers can make their own irrational decisions and that ANC-funding BEE companies make big profits. Pure ANC-non-sense again to the rest of us.

    • The same thinking behind CR claims of protecting sovereignty when funders want accountability for R131 billion which was the outcome of COP 27 for SA’s so-called “just transition”. Let SA GOV anywhere near that pot we will watch it disappear again. Seems that academic institutions are one of the few safe ways to fund SA electorate (ie: not ANC) interests.

  • Let’s assume for one minute that the minister started out seriously to improve the lot of the people, especially those working in the mines and in energy. Let’s also assume this is not just about feeding at the trough. Now, like all those with too much power, anyone that conflicts with his view of the world, becomes and enemy and conspirator against him and the people.

    Mantashe is, at the very best, out of touch with energy and environmental sciences, sacrificing both for a 50’s view of the world of worker rights. His views and actions are damaging those industries and workers he (allegedly) seeks to protect as well as damaging the health, welfare and future of the people living around the mines and power stations, specifically and South Africans generally.

    He needs to go but CR is still playing a “long” game instead of being a leader by example

  • Excellent succinct hard hitting article as always from Rebecca Davis, such an excellent turn of phrase: “ either baffled, silent, or baffled into silence, ”

  • We must remember that as bevok as the statements that Mantashe makes are, he remains one of the key politicians on CRs side and hence unlikely to be fired. I have heard him referred to by insiders as the most powerful cabinet minister.
    Which is not to say that his utterances are unhinged from reality.
    What is more worrying is that these sorts of bizarre and paranoid statements by nationalists within government usually signal a tightening of the screws on civil society funding and activity. We have seen the same in India under Modi, Russia under Putin, Turkey under Erdogan, etc.
    We need to strongly protect against these outbursts from inflexible ideologues whose rhetoric remains founded in the previous century. The world has moved on. Stalinism is toxic, despite Putins attempts to resurrect it and we cannot allow its influence to weigh on any meaningful policy positioning. This is dog barking at moon shit.

  • If this Minister actually believes what he says, the quote does explain why Mantashe and DMRE consistently ignore excellent work analysing our electricity system and plans by the CSIR: he thinks it is a civil society organisation: “…including aspects of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research [CSIR] and other civil society groups to destabilise the work of the department.”
    A quick look online: “The CSIR was established through an Act of Parliament in 1945 and the organisation’s executive authority is the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology.” (that’s his SACP comrade Blade) Seems unlikely Mantashe doesn’t know this, or that particular skill would be required for him to get hold of one of its reports, but his divisive and polarising strategy now extends to suggesting nefarious foreign-funded elements in CSIR conspiring to…, er… critique the energy policy positions of the Minister most recently handed the energy portfolio.
    If the Minister would apply his acumen to confront the science, rather than seeking to discredit scientists, we could welcome: “But because we are aware, we can confront it.” True to form, he doesn’t actually identify what “it” is, but clearly the Minister finds it is a welcome distraction from reality.

  • You would think the Minister would spend more effort helping his department approve or decline over 5000 mining applications that have been delayed for years.

    Then we could believe that his bluster may actually be about fostering positive economic growth for the country and not just family and cadres.

    • Well said.

      Is coal a cash cow for the ANC ? why else would Mangash continue advocating for it in spite of the rest of the world weaning itself off it. Maybe he’s a lot smarter than we give him credit for……

  • as a taxpayer of millions every year and provider of jobs, please Mr. President, this guy was promoted above his level of competence decades ago, put him out to pasture, preferably to one of our areas where due to drought there is no grass left

  • As expected, when a member of the ANC pushes a particular nonsensical agenda, there is skullduggery involved.
    ANC receives funding from Batho Batho (to pay salaries of employees) Batho Batho holds approx. 47% of the investment group Thebe, which in turn has a 28% stake in Shell’s downstream business in SA.
    So there you have it, the reason why SA citizens are being sold down the ‘climate change’ river. Future thinking on renewables would have created prosperity and the ANC would not have lost favour with SA voters.

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