It is not ‘Foreign Forces’ – It is the People of South Africa who are Fed Up with Gwede Mantashe and the DMRE

Opinion

When facing criticism for screwing things up, blame it on foreign forces. It’s a tried and tested ANC technique to deflect legitimate criticism of their failures. Staying true to tradition, ANC National Chairperson and Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, recently claimed that there is a “foreign-funded” campaign intent on destabilising his department’s work and souring his relationship with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Mantashe provides little by way of evidence to substantiate his claims and actually spreads blatant falsehoods, if not lies. What evidence does exist suggests that it is actually Mantashe who is working on behalf of foreign forces, often against the will of South Africans.

Follow the money

Behind his accusations of “foreign forces”, Mantashe claims an “unnamed” research centre at the University of Cape Town (UCT) receives some international funding from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation — an international philanthropic organisation dedicated to improving the lives of children.

Mantashe claims that this unnamed UCT research centre is somehow using that children’s foundation money to coordinate media and civil society in a campaign against him. On SAFM, he mentioned in particular a civil society mobilisation I worked on, which went under the banner #UprootTheDMRE.

The thing is, his claims are completely false. No UCT money went to fund the mobilisation. Either the minister is deeply misinformed or he is intentionally spreading lies. I am not sure which is worse.

A homegrown uprising against Mantashe

Far from “foreign forces”, it is the people of South Africa who are fed up with Mantashe and the department he leads. Just a few months ago, thousands of people in every province of South Africa mobilised under the banner of #UprootTheDMRE to protest against Mantashe and the DMRE’s polluting, unjust and harmful energy and mining agenda.

The protest was led by mining-affected communities, tired of Mantashe greenlighting polluting and harmful projects without their consent. It was led by young people, unwilling to have their future condemned to climate chaos by the DMRE’s plans for lots of polluting coal, oil, and gas.

It was led by communities sick of being plunged into darkness through load shedding. Communities that lack proper access to energy, because the DMRE refuses to unlock a renewable energy future that would be the fastest, most affordable and most job-creating way to bring new energy online.

It was led by workers and communities demanding a just transition to renewable energy that leaves no one behind. It was led by fishing groups and coastal communities resisting Mantashe’s scandal-ridden plans for polluting powerships, which could devastate local fishing grounds and cost South Africa hundreds of billions of rands.

Showing his disdain for the people he is supposed to answer to, Mantashe and his department refused to officially respond to the demands of those protesting. Reflecting his authoritarian streak, Mantashe did, however, get his lawyers to threaten to sue me, the secretary of the Climate Justice Coalition, which helped organise the #UprootTheDMRE mobilisation.

It seems that Minister Mantashe might actually be the one deserving of a lawsuit against him, given that he is spreading falsehoods to dishonestly discredit his critics.

Selling out to polluting corporations

Unlike Mantashe’s unsubstantiated accusations though, there is quite robust evidence that Mantashe himself is very much working to the benefit of foreign forces — forces much more greedy and malicious than a children’s foundation, like rapacious Western oil and gas multinational corporations.

We can start with the recently reported revelations around the ANC receiving funding from Batho Batho Investments trust to pay the salaries of its employees — employees whom a financially mismanaged ANC had failed to pay. That same trust holds about 47% of the investment group Thebe, which in turn has a 28% stake in Shell’s downstream business in South Africa.

Is it a mere coincidence that at the same time that the ANC was getting money from Batho Batho, Mantashe was fiercely advocating for (Royal Dutch) Shell’s plans to conduct seismic testing off the Wild Coast? Might that help explain why he was accusing local communities and activists who resisted Shell of enacting “colonialism and apartheid of a special type”?

Despite professing to be a resister of Western imperialism, that’s hardly the first time Mantashe has acted to the benefit of foreign multinationals wanting to extract the natural wealth of South Africa, often over the resistance of South Africans. To borrow the words of South African researcher Dr Neil Overy:

“[Mantashe] should reflect on his pseudo pan-African, anti-imperialist rhetoric by looking a little closer at who is exploring and extracting oil and gas on the continent. Both historically and now, he will find it is almost entirely dominated by companies from the Global North. He may want to glance a little more carefully at the current map that carves up the coast of South Africa mostly between European and American oil and gas companies like Total, Shell, Eni and others. One cannot but reflect on the maps that emerged from the Berlin conference in 1884, where Africa was similarly carved up for European exploitation.”

As Dr Overy’s research highlights, it is Mantashe who is the one serving foreign corporations over the resistance of local communities. It is Mantashe, more than anyone, who can be accused of perpetuating “colonialism and apartheid of a special type”.

Local communities seem to agree. Like the Amadiba Crisis Committee, which has long been resisting Mantashe’s extractivist projects in their home of emaMpondweni. In response to their victory over Mantashe in the Shell case, they wrote that:

“Mantashe’s department is the doormat that the multinational corporations use when they clean off their boots before entering the country to continue their colonial looting. This is why Mantashe’s losses in court are celebrated as victories for the people and for democracy.”

The media has also been quite outspoken in its criticism of Mantashe

The Sunday Times recently named Mantashe “Mampara of the Week” for his fossil-fuel-loving antics. Daily Maverick named him polluter of the year. The Mail & Guardian gave him an E rating for his performance, and suggested that he should do the “country a favour — resign”. Similarly, News 24 gave Mantashe 2/10 in their ratings, saying he “needs to go”.

For Mantashe, this is all evidence of some grand conspiracy against him. Perhaps more simply, it’s evidence that the people of South Africa are fed up with him. Fed up that their country and future are being sold off to foreign corporations to the benefit of an elite few connected ANC members and cadres.

It’s worth reflecting on how the apartheid government loved to spin conspiracies accusing the media and people of South Africa of being agents of foreign forces. Authoritarians everywhere love to demonise the media and civil society to deflect from the legitimate criticism they face.

Rather than blaming foreign forces for attacking him and “destabilising” his Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, perhaps it’s time Mantashe reflects on how his department and party’s actions are destabilising our country, our economy, and the only planet we call home.

Perhaps he should realise that the reason people are protesting is that they know that a more socially and ecologically just energy and mining future is possible, and they know that Mantashe and his DMRE are the biggest obstacles to the future they are demanding.

Author: Dr Alex Lenferna

Alex is a climate justice campaigner with 350Africa.org and serves as secretary of the Climate Justice Coalition. He is a Mandela Rhodes and Fulbright Scholar who holds a PhD focused on climate and energy from the University of Washington. 

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