Our Burning Planet

AMABHUNGANE

Quid pro quo — Karpowership offers to buy government a game farm

Quid pro quo — Karpowership offers to buy government a game farm
The MV Karadeniz Powership Zeynep Sultan. (Image: Wikipedia) | Unsplash / Chrissie Kremer

To clear its final environmental hurdle, Karpowership has offered to donate a game farm to the government — a controversial arrangement that Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife describes as ‘unchartered territory’. The game farm is being offered as ‘ecological compensation’ to make up for temporary damage to the ‘irreplaceable’ and globally significant bird habitat around Richards Bay.


To get its 540MW Richards Bay power plant off the ground, Karpowership will buy the government a game farm.

The private Madaka Game Ranch is a popular hunting destination for North American tourists. It is on the border with Ithala Game Reserve, a provincial park that is home to rhinos and elephants. 

The details of the proposed deal were outlined in the environmental impact assessment (EIA), which was published in May but came up again in Karpowership’s recent interview with eTV journalist Annika Larsen.

Asked if Karpowership was happy with some of the offsets that had been “directed towards you”, chief commercial officer Zeynep Harezi said: “I think I know what you’re talking about — the offset for the Richards Bay black heron bird livelihood — we need to buy and donate a game reserve to DFFE [the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment] or…”

At which point she faltered: “Can I take that back? Because I actually am not super informed about it.”

Larsen: “You don’t know whether you were directed to buy a game reserve from a certain person or anything like that?”

Harezi: “No, we did whatever the DFFE requirement was.”

But, as improbable as it sounds — promising a game farm to secure an environmental permit — that is effectively what the deal entails.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, which manages both Ithala and the Richards Bay Estuary — where Karpowership’s floating power plants will be anchored — described the proposal as “unchartered territory” in a letter sent to DFFE last month, but said it would support it.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Karpowership offers to chop 20-year energy deal to five years — but there’s a new price

The game ranch

The 1,750-hectare Madaka Game Ranch was supposed to go on auction on 23 March, with an opening bid price of R9-million.

Days before the auction, however, the owners withdrew the property without explanation.

“There’s been rumours around that we’re moving,” one of the owners, Izak Kirsten, said in an Instagram post two weeks later. “It’s a long-short story, something that happened very quick.”

AmaBhungane has established that at some point before the auction, Ezemvelo introduced Karpowership to Swiss Safari & Eco Tours, which owns Madaka. 

“I have no idea how they ended up with us,” Kirsten said. “Madaka was advertised on auction. Then we got a call out of the blue. Ezemvelo notified us of Karpowership.” 

The property, which includes three lodges, is valued at R30-million to R40-million, according to Kirsten, but up to R72-million with the game and all the assets included. 

“Negotiations are going on at the moment,” Kirsten said, adding that Karpowership was undertaking its own valuation. “We didn’t get any proposal on [the price].”

But Karpowership will only buy the game farm and donate it to the government if it is granted environmental authorisation for its Richards Bay floating power plant project in the form of permits that it has been trying to secure since 2020, and which it desperately needs to get its R280-billion project off the ground.

No Plan B for waterbirds

If Karpowership’s 540MW project in Richards Bay goes ahead, three ships will arrive next year: two electricity-generating powerships and a floating storage regasification unit.

For the next 20 years, these three ships will be moored alongside one of the world’s most important sites for migratory birds, which will have significant consequences.

“The risks … include habitat loss, collisions, electrocution, light and noise pollution and disturbance by the movement of people, machinery and vessels,” Karpowership’s environmental consultants wrote in its latest EIA.

“Of these, the elevated risk of mortality due to collisions with overhead powerlines are a major concern for larger species, particularly waterbirds … including threatened species such as flamingos and pelicans.”

To limit the damage, Karpowership has proposed a biodiversity offset, a controversial scheme whereby developers are allowed to cause damage to one part of the environment provided they make up for it by restoring another. 

Irreplaceable

None of this is strictly by the book.

“Offsets are not appropriate to compensate for impacts on irreplaceable biodiversity,” Ezemvelo’s 2013 guideline on offsets reads. “As a rule, biodiversity offsets should not be considered when … Critical Biodiversity Areas … or ecosystems containing irreplaceable biodiversity … would be negative[ly] affected.” 

In these cases, the guidelines say a development should not go ahead.

Dr Andy Blackmore, Ezemvelo’s scientific manager for conservation planning, confirmed that the site of Karpowership’s project “is mapped as a ‘Critical Biodiversity Area — Irreplaceable’”. 

“Furthermore, given the [Important Bird Area] status” — meaning the site has global significance for bird conservation — “even if monitoring shows this to no longer be of its former status, the site should still be considered as irreplaceable.”

But in Karpowership’s case, Ezemvelo will make an exception because, the argument goes, this critical bird habitat can be “recreated” by rehabilitating the neighbouring uMhlathuze Estuary.

“We were originally of the opinion that this area was irreplaceable … What has become evident, in the recent specialist studies, is that this habitat has degraded apparently as a consequence of the harbour operations and beyond. We also have been advised that this degradation is on-going [sic]… Thus ‘moving’ this habitat to a more conducive area is probably the best medium to long term [sic] solution. We have also been led to believe that, unlike our complex midlands grasslands, this marine/estuarine habitat can reasonably be recreated,” Blackmore said in an emailed response.

“In summary … if the receiving environment is irreplaceable then the application must be refused. As you can appreciate, if the environment can reasonably be recreated … it will be very difficult to argue that its [sic] truly ‘irreplaceable’.”

However, Blackmore added: “[A]t this point in time, we do not have reasonable defendable grounds to object to the project. If however new information comes to light we will (as we have done in the past) revise our position.”

‘Unchartered territory’

The problem with the proposed offset is timing.

Karpowership needed to resubmit its EIA by May, which did not leave enough time to develop a comprehensive plan for the uMhlathuze Estuary. What rehabilitation work will be done and how much will Karpowership be required to spend? These details are still being negotiated.

This means that if environmental authorisation is granted, the powerships will start operating before the uMhlathuze Estuary has been rehabilitated, ie, before a Plan B for waterbirds is in place.

So, to compensate for the delay and the damage this is likely to cause, Karpowership suggested donating the 1,750-hectare Madaka Game Ranch to the government as a form of “ecological compensation”.

“Ezemvelo pointed out that this organisation was concerned about the potential delay in the marine offsets becoming functional,” Blackmore explained. “In discussion, Karpowership was receptive to making good on the delay … Ezemvelo wanted to secure Madaka and a few other properties around Ithala Game Reserve for biodiversity and elephant and rhino conservation. We suggested Madaka because we had heard the property might be on the market.”

Ecological compensation is effectively a last resort when the negative impacts of a development cannot be avoided, minimised, restored or mitigated.

These kinds of trade-offs “should be approached with extreme caution”, according to the National Biodiversity Offset Guideline, gazetted in June, because the “rational link” between the habitat that is affected and the compensation that is given is no longer there. 

In Karpowership’s case, the acquisition of Madaka will be good for rhinos and elephants but will do nothing to help coastal wading birds as they wait for the uMhlathuze Estuary to be rehabilitated.

In its letter to the DFFE last month, Ezemvelo described Karpowership’s proposal as “unchartered territory”. 

Asked if this was a euphemism for “irregular”, Blackmore said: “‘Unchartered territory’ should be read as ‘pioneering’ for the good of biodiversity conservation … I have no idea whether Madaka is sufficient, an overkill, insufficient, etc., to compensate for the delay, as we have not applied our minds to this area of offsetting.”

Was Ezemvelo pressured?

Ultimately, it will be up to Environment Minister Barbara Creecy to decide whether to accept Karpowership’s game farm proposal. The EIA was resubmitted in May for a final decision.

But securing Ezemvelo’s endorsement will go a long way.

When Karpowership’s environmental consultants submitted their original EIA in 2021, Ezemvelo was scathing, calling it “substantially deficient” and “unusable for a source document in decision-making”. (Find out why Karpowership’s Richard Bay project was torpedoed in 2021.)

By contrast, Ezemvelo now says it “would not object to the Department issuing an Environmental Authorisation for the proposed Gas to Power Powership project (the Powership at Richards Bay), should it (the Department) decide to do so”.

But Ezemvelo added a caveat in its letter to the DFFE: “Ezemvelo will not object to the Environmental Authorisation … being conditional to the marine offset set being set in place before the Powership becomes operational.”

Asked what this would mean in practical terms, Blackmore said Karpowership would need to sign agreements with all the relevant landowners, municipalities, departments and specialists; would need to adopt an offset implementation plan; and would need to put up money to fund the project.

“Karpowership may not operate until the offsets are secured,” Blackmore confirmed. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Karpowership SA is heading for choppy financial waters

A source inside Ezemvelo, who described the offsets as “irregular”, said that staff had been put under pressure to find a solution for Karpowership. 

Asked to comment on this, Blackmore said: “It is not uncommon to experience some (inappropriate) pressure from an applicant (private, communal, or government) … Having said this, at no stage were we asked in any way to compromise our principles on the [Karpowership] application. 

“I do admit that there was substantially more involvement of [Karpowership] senior managers in this application compared to the bulk of the applications we receive. But this approach is no different to a number of key development projects we have commented upon.” 

Karpowership and its environmental consultants did not respond to detailed questions sent last week. Instead, it issued a press release saying that the “landmark” biodiversity offset agreement demonstrated its “unwavering commitment to the environmental sustainability of its projects”. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Surely the Karpoership madness will never come into fruition? Surely were it to do so it would, in effect, be an ANC admission that it has totally failed and can never succeed?

    • Iam Fedup says:

      The ANC admit that it has totally failed, Mr. Quirk? Not in a million years. They have proven that they are superb only at achieving destruction, and they need to be forced out by any means. A bribe is a bribe is a bribe, no matter what you call it. As for the Environment Ministry, their “cheap tricks available here” Barbara Creecy has been one of the greatest disappointments as she too decided to join the brothel rather than do her job.

  • Bob Kuhn says:

    Fraud and bribery!

  • Leon Schipper says:

    Has everyone forgotten that ultimately it is the taxpayer who will be (over)paying for this game farm? When the country already has plenty other game reserves that have been mismanaged.

    • Pet Bug says:

      Exactly my thought.
      Visited two national parks this year, and my word, the admin!
      Getting in and out requires two additional days leave… once inside the beauty is amazing.
      But only on day two – and after lots of drinks to recover. Totally unnecessary and shocking compared to a privately run nature reserve.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    The fact that they have offered to offset the environmental damage with this game farm shows they are well aware of the environmental damage their power ships cause. It is an admission of guilt, in my opinion!

  • Mike Blackburn says:

    Just how stupid do these people think we are? How does this change any ecological balance? Even if this made any sense at all, the game farm and land and the animals there on exist already. How does buying it from a private owner and gifting it to the govt change anything. If anything, this will be worse for the environment as a functioning game farm will now be given to an inept government who will no doubt run it into the ground. Honestly, the mind boggles.

  • Daniel Swanepoel says:

    So, for about 50 million you can buy an environmental licence for a 280 billion project. How do they contribute to conservation by buying an existing “conserved” area.

    • Pet Bug says:

      Agree!
      Stunning cunning business model.
      But then our government ministers have sold SA Inc worth hundreds of billions for braai packs and some bottles booze.

  • William Kelly says:

    I don’t get it. Is the offer on the table to effectively sacrifice the birds ad other wildlife in an estuarine habitat for rhinos and elephants somewhere else? And this is being considered??? What the actual?
    As for the rehab/moving argument, this needs to be done before anything is granted to prove that it can work, the risk needs to lie with the applicant and not with the country. Sorry that it might take a while, but that’s the nature of nature.

  • Betsie Ackerman says:

    So bribery is perfectly ok if it’s out in the open? This government really has no shame, they will do whatever it takes to reach their pocket lining objectives.

  • James Miller says:

    If this game farm proposal is as described, then it’s nothing but a bribe dressed up as biodiversity; a buzzword intended to confuse us into believing Karpowership’s mumbo jumbo about their “unwavering commitment to the environmental sustainability of its projects”. The tenacity of these Karpowership proponents is proof of the exorbitant profit they stand to gain, and we stand to lose.

    • cathy.wardle says:

      Kapowership seem hellbent on securing this extremely lucrative (to them) deal and are trying everything from lessening the period to now purchasing a game farm.
      The government should be extremely suspicious of their motives and stay far away! The question is will it as we know how money talks to the ANC cronies

    • cathy.wardle says:

      Exactly! Speak the truth and pray someone in the government is listening

  • Luan Sml says:

    So Karpowership will “replace” a critically important and IRREPLACEABLE natural habitat with an untested alternative and then throw in a game farm as well, just to make us all feel better???
    This is absolute madness and makes me so angry, it’s the greased palm epudemic on a whole new level!!
    When will this madness end… taxpayers have installed 4x more rooftop solar than this powership ever will, so just scrap Gweezy’s mad idea now!

  • Alan Jeffrey says:

    Ezemvelo cannot properly run many of the reserves already under its control so there will not only be zero gain for the environment but further deterioration is guaranteed as yet another truly evil ANC criminal venture will be foisted upon the long suffering people of South Africa. The answer to the power crisis is simple-allow free enterprise under the control of decent people to run Eskom along with the jailing of the blatant criminals sucking the life out of the utility with ZERO interference from
    a Government supposed to be running the country in the interests of its people!!

  • Alan Jeffrey says:

    ps Call me a nitpicker Susan, but you should have chosen a more appropriate photo than that of Springbok on grassy plains? Kind Regards

  • Jennifer D says:

    What will happen to the millions of birds that occupy South Africa – we are destroying where they live without concern. Walk through a first world city and if you’re lucky you will find a pigeon begging for food. It is absolutely abhorrent what we are doing to our wildlife. Africa was the last natural place and now here we are trying to destroy that too.

  • Susan Keegan says:

    Excuse me, but am I missing something? How is it an ‘offset’ to inevitable environmental destruction to buy a game farm that exists already and hand it over to be mismanaged by a team of cadres? To agree to destroy an area that has been declared ‘irreplaceable’ on the basis of a promise by government (!!!!!) to create a new one. A project which will be funded only to the extent that the cadres receive their monthly pay.

    One can only hope that the sellers stand firm and refuse to sell. Though of course another ANC deployee could simply buy it and sell it to Karpowership at a grossly inflated price.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    How low can these people including the ANC go?

  • Rob Currie says:

    “And there you are
    Happy landing on a chocolate bar
    See the sugar bowl do the tootsie roll
    With the big bad devil’s food cake
    If you eat too much, ooh-ooh
    You’ll awake with a tummy ache
    On The Good Ship Lollipop
    It’s a night trip, into bed you hop
    And dream away
    On The Good Ship Lollipop
    You’ll awake with a tummy ache”

    Source: LyricFind
    Songwriters: Richard A. Whiting / Sidney Clare
    On The Good Ship Lollipop lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

  • Brad cupido says:

    Sold! The beloved country

  • Gregory Michael Van Der Krol says:

    So it is a bribe then?

  • Joe Schlabotnik says:

    Ezemvelo “unchartered” or “uncharted”? Seems they don’t know their Ars from their Elb.

  • Helen Swingler says:

    Madness. This cannot be allowed.

  • Andrew Brown says:

    Perhaps unintentional but “uncharteRed territory” (my cap) may be a very good way to describe the deal.

  • Brian Doyle says:

    This is bribery and corruption at its worst. This proposal should never get off the ground and the Karpowership deal should be sunk right now. However the ANC with its corrupt practices will try to work out a deal for their own profits instead of stopping this proposal in its tracks

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    This seems like a desperate final measure to get in before the Chinese and their massive ‘donation’ to end loadshedding. Now the internal wars between Minister Sparky and Fossil Gweezy will really start getting interesting.

  • Glyn Fogell says:

    With apologies to the bard: “A bribe by any other name would smell as foul”.
    You cannot replace a wetland with an existing game farm. And we’ve seen enough government farming projects collapse in the past.

    This cannot be allowed to happen!

  • Leonie Pentz says:

    No! No! No! It is unacceptable that, after the Karpowership deal was proven to be an environmental disaster, never mind a disaster on so many other levels, (i.e. an absolutely unsustainable waste of money that desperately need to be invested in SA infrastructure) these ‘leaders’ of ours are pushing ahead hard and fast to make it happen under absolutely any circumstances. It has to be that certain people are being paid to make this disastrous decision. It is very tough to stay ‘civil’ and watch our beautiful country being destroyed.

  • Rae Earl says:

    This whole thing stinks of the ANC ‘s usual lining of their pockets with backhander inflows of untraceable cash payments into overseas bank accounts. The rhinos and elephants in the game farm are already protected and besides, elephants are so plentiful in Africa that culling is needed to contain their proliferation. Our bird life attracts thousands of bird watchers from all over the world and South Africa is a leader in international bird life preservation which is desperately needed as natural habitats are eroded by civilian encroachment. These Karpowership scumbags are simply a bunch of money grabbers who know how easy it is to buy Ramaphosa and his corrupt mob of cabinet ministers. As a nation, we cannot allow this to proceed.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Can just see the anc%$ts rubbing their hands wither their big eye looking at all the meat. The openness confirms that corruption and crime are part and parcel of the party.

  • Tee Mo says:

    I mean, the fact that the estuary right next door is in need of rehabilitation shows you just how much government cares about the environment. Why would they care if this initiative replaces birds with rhinos? Neither birds nor rhinos can be easily stuffed into pockets, see.

    The party that I’m most annoyed with is Ezemvelo – which is clearly being asked to tow a ridiculous line and are twisting themselves into knots to justify the unjustifiable.

  • Michael Thomlinson says:

    The point that everyone is missing here is that Karpowership have offered to donate a farm to the SA government ie. ANC government.
    So, how do we, the people of SA, benefit from this deal? Thats right – nada, nothing at all. In fact it will cost us and our children.

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