South Africa – Drive for Offshore Resources


South Africa’s mineral heavy economy turns to the ocean in search of new economic opportunities, to the dismay of local communities

Coal recently overtook gold as the leading contributor to South African GDP;  in 2014 coal stood at South African Rand (R) 101.05bn (US$8.319bn), platinum group metals and iron ore at R58.7bn ($4.81bn) and gold at R46.8bn ($3.83bn). Xavier Prévost, Senior Coal Analyst at XMP Consulting, said “coal (is the most important commodity for the future of South Africa’s economy) because it is our source of energy. Without it the whole country will be paralysed”.

As part of the National Development Plan South Africa is planning to turn to its 3m sq km of oceans as a source of economic return, to create an estimated 1m jobs and R177bn worth of economic product. The plan focuses on a number of key areas; offshore oil and gas, aquaculture, marine transport and manufacture, and marine protection services, largely looking for large-scale industrial investment from the private sector, reported the Mail & Guardian Africa.

This new drive towards offshore resources is being catalysed by Operation Phakisa, which is heavily steered by the Government Mineral Resources Department and PetroSA, the national oil producer, who will be involved in granting mining and exploration licenses. With the recent expansion of the South African marine area from 370km to 650km from the shore, the government is now fast tracking 30 deep-water exploration wells, although to date from 300 wells drilled no significant reserves have been found.


Offshore Drillship Deep Ocean Ascension off Cape Town. CC 2010

Phakisa, from the Sesotho word meaning “hurry up”, has been hailed to “fast track the implementation of solutions on critical development issues”. However for the Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA), which represents 100 communities through 70 organisation, the operation is just a “a fast tracking of the killings of our people and continued environmental destruction as it puts profit before the people”, reported South African community journalism network Groundup.

As a result of global shortages and rising national demand the focus on more ‘unconventional mining’ is increasing; in a recent National Biodiversity Assessment, the South African National Biodiversity Institute said that this type of mining is increasingly necessary and applications are growing. Ventures that carry particular risks include the awarding of three prospecting permits for offshore phosphate licenses, which uses machines to break up the ocean floor. A valuable insight into the developments and environmental hazards from offshore mining activities can be in this Greenpeace Technical Report.

The main opponents to proposed offshore resources extraction are the hundreds of thousands of local fishing communities that rely on the South African waters as their primary livelihood, whose main concern is the threat to fishing stocks from pollution, disasters, increased traffic and other environmental disturbances. Commentators, critical of Operation Phakisa, have in the light of the often violent and destructive nature of the mining industry,  instead advocated Operation Bhekisisa – Sesotho for look closely.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

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