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Multi-billion rand ‘mega project’ sparks major pollution concerns

A multi-billion rand industrial project planned for Limpopo has raised concerns of catastrophic pollution and environmental damage.

Reuters reported that the Musina-Makhado Energy-Metallurgical Special Economic Zone (EMSEZ) will consist of a cluster of 20 steel and other metalworking plants which are fuelled by a coal-fired power station.

The project aims to provide nearly 54,000 jobs in Limpopo, according to government data. It will cover 8,000 hectares with industrial facilities including a coal washery and plants for coking coal, ferromanganese, steel and cement.

However, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), a South African environmental law organisation, has submitted comments opposing the project on behalf of green groups.

“We have strong objections to the project – which entails the development of massive, unnecessary and expensive polluting infrastructure,” said Michelle Koyama, an attorney with the CER to Reuters.

The EMSEZ is the largest such zone planned for South Africa, according to the EIA published in February by Delta BEC, a South African environmental consulting firm. Chinese company Shenzhen Hoi Mor has also reportedly pledged to invest $3.8 billion in the zone.

The project is expected to generate about 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over its lifetime – equal to a little more than double South Africa’s current annual emissions.

There are also concerns that there is not enough water in the area to support the project, in an area that is facing increasing volatility due to climate change.

Job creation

A massive rollout of infrastructure throughout the country is one of the key interventions identified as part of president Cyril Ramaphosa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.

In his 2021 state of the nation address, the president said that government has now developed an infrastructure investment project pipeline worth R340 billion in network industries such as energy, water, transport and telecommunications.

Some of the infrastructure projects which have been identified by the president include:

  • Lanseria Smart City which will become home to between 350,000 to 500,000 people within the next decade;
  • Phase 2A of the Mokolo and Crocodile River Project, and the uMkhomazi Water Project;
  • Road projects worth R19 billion covering the spine of the South African road network;
  • The construction and rehabilitation of the major N1, N2 and N3 highways;
  • The Student Housing Infrastructure Programme which aims to house 300,000 student beds;
  • SA Connect, a programme to rollout broadband to schools, hospitals, police stations and other government facilities.

While the infrastructure plan has been welcomed by the private sector, businesses have expressed disappointment at government’s failure to properly and speedily execute it, noting the 2021 budget indicated a R70 billion underspend.

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