Our Burning Planet

OPEN LETTER

To President Ramaphosa: Call Minister Mantashe to account so that we can have a future

President Cyril Ramaphosa, left, and Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe. (Photos: Gallo Images / Media 24 / Deaan Vivier | Gallo Images / Business Day / Freddy Mavunda)

We write now to urge you to respond in the same decisive manner as you have in confronting the coronavirus threat to the greatest threat to humankind – the climate crisis.

Dear President Ramaphosa,

We are most grateful for your affirmation that “lives matter”.  We rejoice in your leadership and the unity your leadership is showing in confronting the coronavirus threat. We support you fully on this front. We write now to urge you to respond in the same decisive manner to the greatest threat to humankind – the climate crisis. Lack of action on our part will bring consequences of a much greater magnitude than Covid-19, including crop failure, starvation, mass migration, conflict and environmental destruction.

We also write to implore you to call your ministers to account so that they also affirm, in the decisions they make, that the lives of all South Africans matter. 

While you strive to combat Covid-19 and we sit tight in lockdown, we draw attention in particular to the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, who has opportunistically and undemocratically amended the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), thereby stripping affected communities of their rights.

Mantashe is destroying our life-support systems, all for the sake of short-term profit. His crimes against his people and the planet are deplorable. He declared in early 2019 that he would appeal a high court ruling which gave the Xolobeni community on the Wild Coast the right to reject mining where they live, and has now dishonourably pushed to alter our constitutional rights.

The minister consistently shows a disregard for the implementation of renewable energy, choosing instead to push the old story of coal and nuclear energy, both short-term solutions. The department of energy’s website on wind and solar energy is years out of date.

We have no confidence in his decision-making and we cannot trust him. We don’t see that he is working for the good of all South Africans. We see him championing vested interests in coal and mining, and prioritising capital over the rights and well-being of citizens. He is doing a disservice to our country, and we believe that had renewable energy been rolled out as you proposed back in 2018, we would not have suffered the Moody’s downgrade. Mantashe has a great deal to answer for.

We understand that Cabinet made a decision in support of the least-cost option offered by renewable energy, with a massive rollout in Mpumalanga. This is not happening and we see that Mantashe is actively obstructing it. Agreements were signed. Because of his obstruction, renewable energy companies have abandoned manufacturing and investment in South Africa.

Mantashe disregards the communities of Xolobeni and Mfuleni, and now the coalfields of Waterberg are to be exploited. Scant regard is paid to the well-being of the people whose lands will be destroyed and water polluted, or to the natural environment – priceless areas that will be ruined forever. All these areas are of huge value for tourism, and whilst you recognise the value and potential of tourism, Mantashe’s policy is destroying this.

We are also concerned about blunders made by Mantashe, such as presenting the wrong IRP to the nation and promoting a hoax “hazenile” mineral to investors at the Africa Down Under mining conference in Australia. His talk of carbon capture and storage is absurd. Coal interests have been talking of this for years, and are no nearer a solution.

In his crucially important position, he fails to acknowledge the need to counter climate change and environmental destruction. He shows scant understanding of the damage and pollution of coal mining and burning to water, soil, air and to human health. Whether we burn the coal from the Waterberg or export it, the fact remains that it will be burnt. We will be adding to CO2 atmospheric emissions. We must leave coal in the ground!

This is a critical time for our planet, yet we witness Deputy President David Mabuza also questioning the contribution of independent power producers to our energy system, and the SO2 emissions allowance for Eskom is to be doubled. Roll out clean wind and solar energy now, and we won’t need to increase pollution! 

Renewable energy is the energy of this century. Let us not only grasp this huge opportunity, but give a lead in it. We are asking for an urgent national transition to decentralised renewable energy. We could become a manufacturing hub for renewable energy for Africa! Forget coal, nuclear and fracking. Retrain the coal workers. There is more opportunity for healthy jobs in renewable energy than in fossil fuels and nuclear. In Germany, renewable energy brought over 400,000 new jobs.

Together, we will turn the tide of Covid-19. We can also work together to create a future without global warming from CO2 emissions and environmental destruction. Let us protect the health of people and our wonderful natural heritage. We cannot restore wilderness areas or bring species back from extinction.

The well-being of people and the planet must supersede capital and the vested interests of corporations and politicians. Please, our president, call your ministers to account so that we have a flourishing future. DM

Bishop Geoff Davies is patron of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute.

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