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Say no to Mthombo
31 March 2011
Guy Rogers

WE HAVE reached a development T-junction. We can either accept, without thinking, the proposed R80-billion oil refinery, Project Mthombo, without an environmental impact assessment having been done – never mind Durban South and the pollution there, never mind scrutinising that extraordinary 18500 permanent jobs’ promise by our premier.

Never mind where the huge energy and water requirement is going to come from (while the squeeze on electricity steeples our fees, and we are banned from using our garden hoses). Never mind climate change and the fundamental dynamic that this phenomenon is being driven by the burning of fossil fuels (like oil). Never mind our global greenhouse gas reduction commitments in this regard.

Or we can say, absolutely no way: business as usual is no longer acceptable. We want nothing less than sustainable development that produces at least as many jobs but without the cost to social well-being and the environment. We’re going for a 21st century approach that pays more than lip-service to the realities of peak oil and climate change.

A leading local commentator on the energy industry and founder of the group Transition Network PE, Pierrelouis Lemercier, says this second scenario would be “like an open window for the future”, opening the way for thousands of sustainable and clean business opportunities. 

Hypothetically, a solar panel factory costing R2-billion solar (so around one-fortieth of the cost of Mthombo) could produce 142MW worth of solar thin film PV panels per year, he says. It could be run by skilled labourers retrenched from the automotive sector, and would generate thousands of green jobs in the down-stream services’ and solar farm operation sectors.
At first, half the stock produced could go to the huge solar farms that the government is planning around Upington, and half could be sold to the growing African market, before absorption by the local emerging market.

This plant would anchor similar renewable energy enterprises (40 for the cost of one Mthombo) to transform Coega into “the RE manufacturing hub that many foreign investors are dreaming about”.

Ironically, the CDC, the parastatal managing the development of the Coega IDZ, where Mthombo will be positioned, if it is approved, said after the finance minister’s budget speech in February that it welcomed his focus on green energy. It said a specific zone has been earmarked at Coega for a green energy cluster –  and this will entice green investors.

What, even if Mthombo is approved? Lemercier warns that potential renewable energy investors in Coega will be scared off and they will look to overseas (like Swiss company Oerlikon Solar, which left recently for Turkey and Morocco) or even to the IDZ in East London, which has positioned itself much better to receive them.

PetroSA says motivation for Mthombo is underpinned by the country’s demand for fuel. Propelled by the industrial and agricultural sectors, this demand is forecast to grow at 4.5% a year. (This apparently despite all the Karoo farmers who have warned the same parastatal their farms and their livelihoods will be destroyed if it approves Shell’s application to frack for gas.)

But even if we accept this figure – shockingly, the factor of peak oil seems to appear nowhere in our government’s reckoning.

Our global supply of crude is running out and as it does, dirtier tar sand will replace it, driving up greenhouse gases. Led by our government, we should all be looking at ways to reduce our reliance upon oil. That’s the challenge. Not spending billions to burn more of it.

If we go that route, what then, when we comprehend that the tank is nearly empty and we need a plan, but our communities are poisoned and our environment’s shot and our money’s spent?

We need to sit down and have an open discussion about Mthombo, and oppose any effort to bulldose it through. We need to make the right choice on this project, now.


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Your comments

meanleader [02 April 2011 9:21]
The world addiction to oil is an international market of epic proportions . SA will not only be able to refine it’s own oil , but for neighbouring states . We all know that some mud flap is going to get a big bribe for this tender , but nonetheless , this project is of startegic nature and value .Southern Africa has few or no refineries that can handle low grade crude oil , and this plant will surely be the first. This plant will allow SA to further monopolise the fuel trade in this region . We do need to do an Environmental impact assessment , but the honourable minister wants to do away with this because it will drag the project out , and he will have to wait longer for his bribe money . Furthermore , this project could pay for itself without having to burden the public with further taxes . This all depends on the size of the minister’s bribe of course . The job situation will be favourable for whites , because this plant will need highly skilled people to run it . It will also offer many labour jobs …. I doubt 18500 is even close , the honourable minister needs to be warned not to take his medication before he delivers such poppytwaddle to the public . All in all , this project should be given carefull consideration .
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Cyril Savage [31 March 2011 13:46]
Just opposing the Mthombo project for the sake of it is silly. SA uses fuel, of that there is no doubt, and the refineries currently within SA are aged, polluting relics as Guy Rogers alludes to. IN addition they are only able to refine “sweet” oils – the far more expensive and rare crude of old and not the “sour” oils that are far cheaper and more readily available. If we look at the bigger picture (ie the whole of SA and not just Coega) the Mthombo refinery is critical to the future of South Africa’s energy security and will provide cheaper fuel (by virtue of being able to make use of more readily available sour or “heavy” crude oils) without the pollution at other refineries in SA (due to using better, modern refining technologies). Cheaper fuel leads to better economic growth leads to poverty alleviation, lower inflation, higher standards of living for ALL South Africans. NOT having Mthombo would be a greater economic and environmental disaster.
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Your Views

SharonT 31 January 2012 2:56 pm

how disappointing that this so-called journalist feels the need to include the trashy comments from a teenagers’ facebook page? the naked facts would have been enough to enlighten us to the teenagers…

dokhotelo 31 January 2012 11:35 am

…Do you know the meaning of political opportunism???? …….How about the “concerned mayor” and “concerned councillors” (if such a thing exists) donate part of their generous salaries (tax-payer p…

PStir 31 January 2012 7:55 am

So you don’t think it’s a worthy cause to get school uniforms for poor children? …

LAW 31 January 2012 7:34 am

Here we go again with the threats of load shedding. Eskom has had many years to come up and get the system running for a bigger population in SA, if its not an increase now its threats of load sheddin…

dokhotelo 30 January 2012 1:05 pm

…Ag, shame!….But with all the money he gets (“Councillors demand huge salary hikes” , “Mayors salaries to top R 1 million”), he can clown around…………

Opstoker 28 January 2012 7:35 am

Was it not the selfsame Radebe who corruptly made a farce of the interviewing process of Mogoeng Mogoeng?…

alcan 27 January 2012 8:17 am

Faulty Transformer? or is the piece of equipment merely badly maintained!…

edisking1 25 January 2012 10:54 am

Sorry to say that this is a weak, sensationalist article. I am very much an environmentalist, however I would far rather support ‘the worse of two weavels’ by having a nuclear plant than more coal pow…

Wayward 24 January 2012 10:13 am

What? too busy stealing from the rest of us? What a hoot! “People who come here are dignified ANC members and they can’t steal from each other” !!!!…

mastermindPE 24 January 2012 9:41 am

I am at a loss when it comes to understanding just how these useless cadres minds work. And do they really think that we are so stupid as to not understand what is really going on when all they conce…