JUST ENERGY TRANSITION
Mantashe has NGOs in crosshairs (again) and wants them to declare their funding sources
Civil society groups have questioned why Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe continues to cast aspersions on environmental groups aiming to hold the government account, suggesting he doesn’t believe in accountability or transparency.
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe has been chided by civil society after claiming that climate change was being used as a weapon by “foreign-funded NGOs” to block development in South Africa.
At the 2023 Africa Oil Week in Cape Town on Tuesday, 10 October, Mantashe’s address for the most part stuck to his usual spiel for continued investment in fossil fuel projects in SA. However, this time he called for NGOs – particularly those opposing fossil fuel development in the country – to declare their sources of funding, just as political parties are mandated to do in South Africa.
Mantashe said: “Foreign-funded NGOs are being used to weaponise environmental preservation to block development in developing nations. This is a reality that we are faced with in South Africa, hence we demand that these NGOs be registered and be made to declare their source of funding as it is done with political parties.”
Under the Political Party Funding Act, which was signed into law in 2021, political parties in South Africa are required to disclose donations greater than R100,000.
The minister’s comments were considered a severe criticism of civil society for its willingness to participate in South Africa’s democratic processes, and importantly, a deflection from the real issues in the oil and gas industry – particularly as these NGOs have already registered and declared their funders on their websites where annual reports could also be found for some.
This was declared by a number of environmental NGOs who spoke to Daily Maverick.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Are environmental NGOs anti-development, as Gwede Mantashe claims? Wessa responds
Just outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), where Mantahshe gave his address on Tuesday, a protest was held by Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cape Town depicting a paper mache artwork of Mantashe in a bed – covered with rose petals – with a person wearing a gas mask, representing the fossil fuel industry.
Protesters said the demonstration was an expression of Mantashe’s “endless love” and unyielding defence of the fossil fuel industry, despite the country’s commitments to decarbonise.
XR Cape Town said: “It is time for South Africa to wake up to the fact that this seemingly cosy relationship with the fossil fuel industry is actually a toxic, exploitative, one-sided affair. It is time to ditch this relationship.”
In his address, Mantashe appeared to be itching to overcome the stumbling block of civil society’s opposition to his vision of reaping the benefits of exploiting Africa’s oil and gas deposits. He said that it was “deplorable that, despite this endowment, the developments in the globe are such that Africa does not benefit from this endowment”.
Manatshe said the constant pushback from environmental NGOs against oil and gas developments in the country resulted in some companies shifting their prospective projects in South Africa to neighbouring countries, such as Namibia.
NGOs fight back
African Climate Alliance (ACA), a youth-led, grassroots group fighting for environmental, ecological and social justice, already publicly states on its website who its funders are as a measure of transparency, but does not believe it should have to be mandatory, as the minister is now calling for.
Read more on Daily Maverick: Mantashe’s fixation on NGO funding is a pretext to silence civil society’s voice as a watchdog of democracy
Sarah Farrell, ACA spokesperson, said: “We also only accept funding from international donors who do not have a say over the activities we choose to do/how we choose to do it. So this idea that international interests are guiding our work is false. This statement made by Mantashe is also part of a broader onslaught on NGOs in South Africa who are challenging the vested interests in keeping fossil fuels going and stalling the just transition at the expense of all South Africans.”
Farrell said these repetitive comments from Mantashe and the fossil fuel industry erased the many community voices speaking out against the neocolonial expansion of coal, oil and gas.
The Green Connection’s Liziwe McDaid added that as civil society, they not only had to uphold their constitutional right to have a safe and healthy environment, but also had to protect their right to have their voices heard.
“This is not the same as opposing development. We also see that instead of implementing proper energy planning that is in the public’s interest, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) continues to push fossil fuel projects, which we believe are not for the benefit of South Africans. Therefore, it has never been more critical to protect our civil society space.”
McDaid said the Green Connection was not opposed to sharing its financial information and that as NGOs, most organisations had already published this information on their websites.
However, she said the minister’s accusations were a distraction from the main issue, which was that government ministers were accountable to the people who elected them and that civil society had a right to scrutinise the sources of funding for political parties.
“When considering that South Africa does not have a proper energy plan, then we have to question the rationale for proposed pet projects of the energy minister. You can find information on our website,” McDaid said.
Francesca de Gasparis, executive director at the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), said: “The idea that we would want to weaponise our call for ethical governance is really an insult to those who fought for the freedom to express their views on decisions that will affect them in the long run.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Closing the gates of hell – protesting against the fossil fuel industry is everybody’s business
De Gasparis was adamant that their activism was geared towards protecting the environment for future generations and ensuring that every South African had an opportunity to actively participate when appropriate.
“This is what makes a healthy democracy. Civil society, NGOs and the public reserve the right to critique and criticise – in peaceful ways and as often as possible – government policy that is not for the people or for the land … What the minister’s comments seem to reflect is his frustration over the opposition of his ‘solutions’, and that his plans are sometimes thwarted,” De Gasparis said.
The minister’s blame-shifting spoke volumes about the government’s willingness to be accountable and transparent, according to De Gasparis.
SAFCEI and the Green Connection said that instead of criticising civil society for its willingness to participate in South Africa’s democratic processes, the government should instead seek to work with the people, for the people. That meant listening to the people. DM