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No Fracking Way

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Fracking in the Karoo

It was a career defining moment that will live with lawyer Derek Light for the rest of his life: listening as Judge Gerald Bloem in the Grahamstown High Court, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, ruled that fracking in the Karoo region was unlawful. It was the punch Light had been waiting years to throw and it sent a battered and bruised government back to the drawing board.

“[The feeling] was overwhelming. You are viewed as a bunch of country people just making a noise. So when you go in a court, on an aspect that is nationally important and it’s got complex legal issues, and the court finds for you, you’re vindicated,” says Light.

This January marked the ninth anniversary when this quiet, unassuming, small-town lawyer and a handful of farmers challenged multi-million-dollar oil corporations and the South African government to stop hydraulic fracturing in their backyards.

“I always say to people I’m not a banner-waving green extremist, I’m a lawyer. What we want is a lawful process and our rights not to be unlawfully hinged… [we] are not just a bunch of country idiots behaving in an unreasonable fashion,” says Light.

Derek Light Fracking

Derek Light (Photo by Jay Caboz)

For Light, it has meant years slogging through snail-paced proceedings and stockpiling mountains of paperwork from his offices in Graaff-Reinet, situated in the heart of the Karoo.

“When they change a law in parliament in line with what you called for, then you start getting ticks on the box and saying the last eight years have been worth it,” he says.

This was all because of three areas of concern the farmers had with the fracking regulations.

“The obvious issue farmers had was with the potential impact of the environment that shale gas development, that hydraulic fracturing, might have. The second was that the legislation was inadequate to cater for such a development, so we were concerned there was a lack of legislation and regulation. Then thirdly, and this is interconnected, we were concerned that there was a lack of knowledge on the process, a lack of knowledge on the receiving environment and therefore an inability to determine the potential impact,” says Light.

READ MORE: The Fracking Future Fades

Light and the 400 Karoo landowners won their court case on October 17 because government failed to follow its own law. The Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) went beyond their authority and published fracking regulations relating to environmental and water usage matters, when it did not have the power to do so, the court found.

“It will mean the ministers of mineral resources, environmental affairs and water affairs will have to go back and do their job properly,” says Light.

It also means another vital lifeline for anti-fracking farmer Doug Stern, who has been farming sheep near Graaff-Reinet for the past 45 years, and was the first to lay the case against government.

“Derek doesn’t get the accolades he deserves. That man has virtually singlehandedly handled this anti-fracking campaign in my view. He’s been backed by strong businessmen, but he’s been able to gather a very strong team to supply him with information that he can use very effectively. Thanks to him largely we’ve been able to keep these cowboys at bay and protect the environment,” says Stern.

“We found so many loopholes in the regulations that government put forward that we felt we had to fight it. It was a significant victory that sends government back to the drawing board and forces them to relook at their regulations. In that time we are buying time and hoping that research into renewable energy will advance at a rapid rate.”

Doug Stern farmer fracking

Doug Stern (Photo by Jay Caboz)

Stern, who is also the president of Agri Eastern Cape, a private association representing more than 3,000 farm owners in the province, was one of the initial farmers to stand up against fracking in 2009.

“Who knows what damage would be done if we had allowed them to do exploratory drilling? If you look at the statistics, at the animal stock numbers of South Africa, a third of those are found in this province. We are an agriculture province through and through. If we start allowing industries like mining to impact on our environment we stand to lose a lot of our animal producing country, which will then impact again on our food security.”

Stern is one of the few farmers in the area to have seen the impact of fracking firsthand. He went to Pennsylvania, United States, as a guest of anti-fracking groups.

“My experiences in America were horrifying and I knew we couldn’t allow this to happen in this country. We had to make sure that they weren’t granted any exploratory lisenses.”

This is not the first time Light has stepped into the ring. In 2011, he and the farmers raised concerns and convinced government to place a moratorium on fracking in the Karoo. This led to government setting up a multi-disciplinary task team to investigate the potential impacts and benefits of hydraulic fracturing.

The report identified significant gaps in research before regulations of exploration of shale gas could proceed. Light and the farmers then called for a full Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) before any further exploration could begin. Farmers claimed there were too many unknowns around the impact of fracking on Karoo’s highly sensitive aquifer system from which boreholes are part of their primary water resource.

Nevertheless, government, in August 2012, chose to lift the moratorium and allow exploration of shale gas, but that they would not allow hydraulic fracturing to take place unless it was properly regulated.

“Government was concerned that if it did not allow the process to proceed, it could be a lost opportunity,” says Light.

“The sad part of the policy decision was that they took a decision notwithstanding the fact that they were uninformed, which we joined issue with. We welcomed the fact that they wanted to revisit the legislation, but we joined issue with the decision that they continued to proceed under circumstances under where they couldn’t take an informed decision.”

It would take government another three years, until June 2015, to submit the next round of regulations. By this time, an important amendment was made to South African law in June 2013, under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act No. 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) and in line with the National Environmental Management Act of 2008. This amendment allowed Light and the farmers to win their case with the DMR, which they say overstepped its authority.

“Unfortunately it was an attempt by the minister to publish regulations that were all encompassing, it dealt with exploration and production and all other potential impacts to do with fracking,” says Light.

To make matters worse, when the DMR published its regulations, it did so without an SEA from the Department of Environmental Affairs. This joint operation produced a 165-page document detailing the uncertainties of fracking and took two years to complete.

“A team of 200 specialists authored work, peer reviewed by 19 international specialists… In each chapter, the scientists made a list of scientific unknowns which the science militated against proper decision making,” says Light.

READ MORE: I Want A Fracking Future

Light says one of the recommendations of this report was that at least 52% of the areas in question could not be fracked because of their sensitivity and more importantly that no water was be used in the Karoo because it was a limited resource.

“Also, what was said to be a massive economic benefit bringing 400,000 jobs to the country, the report said otherwise. It said fewer than 3,000 jobs would be created and of that only 900 locally,” says Light.

In the meantime, the government, through the Department of Science and Technology, also commissioned a report to determine South Africa’s technical readiness to support a shale gas industry. This was published in 2016 in partnership with the Academy of Science of South Africa and concluded, “much needs to be done to put in place a clear legislative environment and a rigorous regulatory and monitoring structure which will ensure that operators, in using their exploration and production lisences, apply best-practice technologies that are fully compliant with the rules and regulations governing the industry.”

“The good news is that there is research being done. It is clear that the initial reserves, which were stated by the oil companies and their advisors, and therefore government, have been overstated. Therefore the cost of producing shale gas, particularly in the context of the Karoo geology, is not viable,” says Light.

Karoo fracking

The Karoo (Photo by Jay Caboz)

While the fight for the Karoo is well underway, the fight for national regulation is just about to begin. It is ironic that while research, millions of dollars and time have been spent to protect the Karoo from fracking, it may proceed in any case on a national level.

This is because while there is a moratorium over the Karoo, this does not apply to the rest of the country. Beyond these borders, farmers now face similar cases where applications have been lodged by oil and gas companies for petroleum and gas exploration in the KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Gauteng and North West provinces.

Although the applications do not specify fracking, Light is concerned with the rising number of applications.

“Which is what we predicted would happen. If there was shale gas in this country, and if they did allow shale gas development on well-field situations on large reserves, it would cover probably 60% of this land’s surface,” says Light.

Sungu Sungu Gas, in 2015, placed bids to explore in KwaZulu-Natal and Free State in an area 565,000ha and was halted in 2016 in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on the grounds it did not consult land owners adequately. In July 2017, it withdrew its exploration application completely.

In May 2017, the Pietermaritzburg High Court ordered Rhino Oil and Gas Exploration South Africa to stop all exploration in an 8,000km2 area after it was found that the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA) had flouted the procedure process. This is just a small part of their applications, which stretch across five provinces and 78,876km2.

“What the general public and government must realize is that agriculture is the cornerstone of their food security program and we can’t jeopardize that in any way whatsoever… Even the politicians have to eat. Everybody has to eat,” says Stern.

READ MORE: Power For The People By The People

Meanwhile, back in the Karoo, Mosebenzi Zwane, the former minister of DMR, told Reuters they are studying the court order.

“We remain committed [to shale gas exploration]. We will study the outcome of the court and decide where we go,” says Zwane. “We are talking about first fracking licenses being granted in 2019 if all goes well.”

The rematch could begin later this year, as the DMR was granted leave to appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal and have filed notice to appeal.

If unsuccessful, the government could face the arduous task of drafting new regulations in line with the High Court ruling, again.

“What we have fought for since 2009 is to achieve a better legislative framework with better regulation. That process is not complete and we will continue to ensure that if shale gas development ever occurs, then it occurs lawfully and it occurs with proper regulation in force,” says Light.

“You need stamina. It’s a long process,” he says with a smile.

One thing that living in the Karoo has taught Light is how to box smart and wait for the right moment to deliver a stunning right hook.

Karoo fracking

The Karoo (Photo by Jay Caboz)

A Fracking Fight Since 2009

It started in 2009, when Econometrix, South Africa’s largest independent macroeconomic consulting firm, believed there was 485 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The government and energy companies took this as gospel to support their case to open up the Karoo for fracking.

They pegged the Karoo as the $100-billion answer to Africa’s energy crisis, saying there would be enough gas to make it the world’s fifth largest resource – enough to fuel the country’s economy for up to 30 years and create thousands of jobs.

No one really knows how much shale gas there actually is. Researchers have only begun to explore its potential and exploration can take up to five years to conclude.

Arts

Oliver Mtukudzi The Soldier With A Big Voice – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

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In January, Africa lost Oliver Mtukudzi. His friend and fellow musician Yvonne Chaka Chaka fondly remembers the global icon. 

In October 2012, Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi, South Africa’s Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Kenya’s Suzanna Owíyo produced Because I Am Girl with musicians from around the world.

It was released to promote the global launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I am A Girl’ campaign, marking the first UN International Day of the Girl Child, on October 11.

READ MORE | Tribute To Oliver Mtukudzi – Zimbabwe’s ‘Man With The Talking Guitar’

Dressed in African prints, they sang together, spreading the word about the empowerment of the girl child.

Mtukudzi’s bass and Chaka Chaka’s soulful voice in harmony, they became more than co-artists; they become brother and sister. It was the first performance of many for the two.

Seven years on, Chaka Chaka is teary-eyed about Mtukudzi’s death 23 days into 2019, when not just she, but Africa lost a music legend.

In a strange coincidence, Mtukudzi died the same day the continent lost the father of South African jazz, Hugh Masekela, last year.

On the phone for this interview, Chaka Chaka describes Mtukudzi as a soldier at work.

“When he was on stage, he was a totally different man. When he had his guitar, it was like a soldier. Like a soldier who has a gun at work,” she tells us.

“I think there were two different people. Offstage, he was just an ordinary man, and on stage, people ate out of the palm of his hand.

“I’ve never known Oliver to never be fit. He has been a skinny man and he would just twist that body with a guitar and that gravel voice of his. A big voice in a small body,” she says.

“He has never called me Yvonne, he has always called me Fifi… Fifi means sister.

“The man was always humble, he never raised his voice, I have never seen him angry and all he has ever wanted is just to see Africa thriving. He wanted to see Africa beautiful. He wanted to see Africa with less disease, less hunger, less corruption, a happy Africa – that was his wish.”

One anecdote Chaka Chaka shares is when Mtukudzi was made a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Zimbabwe in 2011.

“You know he sat there with me and asked, ‘so, what does this entail, my sister? You have been a goodwill ambassador for a long time. You will tell me what needs to be done. How should I act? How should I react? How should I do things?’

“And I’m like, ‘no, but you know, you are more of a star than me and you have been in this industry long before I’. He was just so down-to-earth and had no chip on his shoulder.” 

The last performance the two did together was in October last year in Harare during the Jacaranda Festival, attended by more than 2,000 people and other artists around the continent.

“Oliver was not in his changing room or at home. He stayed there and watched other artists perform, which was so great,” says Chaka Chaka.

“This year, he promised that we would do it [the Jacaranda Festival] in Bulawayo,” she said. They had planned to make it a big show and use their status as goodwill ambassadors to encourage and inspire more youth.

 But sadly, that promise will never be fulfilled.

“The legacy he will leave behind is a legacy of love, the legacy of pro-African and I think for me he was a pan-Africanist. That’s what he was,” she says.

READ MORE | Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi Dies At 66

To this day, Neria is still one of Chaka Chaka’s favorite songs by him.

 Mtukudzi, who died aged 66 of diabetes, was laid to rest on January 27 in his home village of  Madziwa.

Thousands sang and danced to the melodies of his songs.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared him a national hero, posthumously, a status that has previously been reserved for ruling party elite and independence veterans.

He may be gone but his music will live forever in the hearts of the fans that loved this legend who soldiered on until the end.

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Economy

What A Failed Johannesburg Project Tells Us About Mega Cities In Africa

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Six years ago a major development was announced in South Africa. Billed as a game changer, it was meant to alter the urban footprint of Johannesburg, Africa’s richest city, forever.

The Modderfontein New City project was launched amid much fanfare, expectation and media hype.

Zendai, a Chinese developer, bought a 1600-hectare site north-east of Johannesburg for the development, which it quickly dubbed as the “New York of Africa”. Early plans showed it was to include 55,000 housing units, 1,468,000 m2 of office space and all the necessary amenities for urban life in the form of a single large-scale urban district. The cost estimate was set at R84 billion.

The developers believed that Modderfontein could function as a global business hub and would become Johannesburg’s main commercial center, replacing Sandton. The project would also change Johannesburg’s international profile by strengthening relations with Asian corporate interests.

But, despite the release of futuristic computer-generated images which led to significant publicity for the project, it was never built. Instead, the land was eventually sold off. Another developer has since begun construction on a much more scaled down project, in the form of a gated-community style housing development.

Modderfontein has faded away from the public consciousness. The story of why it failed has never been adequately told in the media.

Our research, which took place over the course of several years, sought to understand the factors which led to the project’s demise. We also wanted to find out how Modderfontein’s failure relates to the broader African urban context.

We found that the project was hindered by conflicting visions between the developer and the City of Johannesburg. Moreover, unexpectedly low demand for both housing and office space meant the original plan for the project was incompatible with the city’s real estate market.

The project’s trajectory also shows how African “edge-city” developments, which are generally elite-driven and marketed as “eco-friendly” or “smart”, can be influenced by a strong local government with the means and willingness to shape development.

Conflicting interests

Zendai’s aspirations to produce a high-end, mixed-used development did not fit with the City of Johannesburg’s approach. Rather than a luxurious global hub, the city wanted a more inclusive development – one which reflected the principles outlined in its 2014 Spatial Development Framework.

At the heart of the framework is the desire to reshape a trend that saw capital leave the old central business district for affluent Sandton at the dawn of democracy in 1994. This was accompanied by an upsurge in securitised suburbs further north towards Pretoria, the country’s capital city.

These spatial trends were incompatible with the ideals of South Africa’s new democratic government and its strategy to mitigate the effects of apartheid-era planning. During apartheid, black people were prohibited from living in more affluent areas, which were reserved for the minority white population. Instead, they were forced into sprawling “townships” on the periphery of cities, far from work and economic opportunities.

To this end, the city demanded that Zendai include at least 5 000 affordable homes in its plans. It also wanted to ensure that the development was compatible with, and complemented, Johanneburg’s public transport system. The city was willing to contribute funding for the necessary infrastructure and inclusive housing.

Yet Zendai remained steadfast in its commitment to its vision, eventually deciding against fully integrating the city’s wishes into its planning application. This saw the city draw-out the planning process.

Meanwhile, problems were mounting for Zendai. The owner, Dai Zhikang, was eventually forced to sell his stake in the project to the China Orient Asset Management Company. Rather than continuing with the project, the asset managers sold the land to the company behind the new housing development on the site.

Smart cities in Africa

Over the last decade, a variety of developments like Modderfontein, including Eko-Atlantic in Nigeria, New Cairo in Egypt, and Konza Technology City in Kenya, have been touted by both public and private sectors as panaceas for Africa’s urban problems. The thinking is that as the developments are disconnected from the existing urban landscape, they won’t be burdened by crime or informality. However, these projects can take badly needed resources away from the marginalised areas of the city.

To make them more palatable to domestic and international audiences, the developments are usually marketed as “smart” or “eco-friendly”.

But these developments can fail at the point of implementation. This is because, as speculative projects, they generally don’t recognise the need to fit in with the wishes of the local authorities or adapt to the existing city. In the case of Modderfontein, the city government had the capability to push back against the developers and, in the end tried to shape the project to better fit Johannesburg’s urban realities. – The Conversation

-Ricardo Reboredo; PhD Candidate in Geography, Trinity College Dublin

-Frances Brill; Research fellow, UCL

The Conversation

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Focus

4 Ways To Develop Employment-Ready Graduates

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Chris Pilgrim, the new CEO of Transnational Academic Group West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana, on the potential game-changers in higher education on the continent.


It is to a verdant academic campus in Ghana   that Chris Pilgrim will be packing his bags from the dunes of Dubai. As the new CEO of Transnational Academic Group (TAG) West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana, Pilgrim will provide students across emerging markets access to post-secondary and executive education.

TAG currently owns and operates Lancaster University’s campus in Ghana, Curtin University’s Dubai campus, and South Africa-based ABN Training in partnership with the Australian Institute of Management in Western Australia.

Pilgrim, who has helped develop TAG’s expansion in Africa and has over 25 years of experience in the higher education sector, spoke to FORBES AFRICA about skills-building, STEM and job creation:

READ MORE | Education Quality and the Youth Skills Gap Are Marring Progress in Africa

1. Are more universities looking to set up here?

A. With over half a million African students studying abroad annually, the continent has the highest outbound student ratio (number of outbound tertiary students/total number of tertiary students) in the world. Along with this annual migration of students comes capital flight, increased brain drain, and a hesitancy to build further world-class higher education capacity on the continent.

TAG partners with globally top-ranked universities to provide the highest quality of higher education in emerging market nations, thereby reversing, albeit modestly, the flow of students.

Our campus in Ghana, in partnership with Lancaster University (ranked sixth in the UK), provides world-class higher education capacity for West Africans, and it has seen students from other countries, including outside of Africa, take up enrolment.

TAG’s Lancaster University Ghana is the only comprehensive UK university campus in mainland Africa, and while TAG is undertaking steps to open similar branch campuses in other African countries, other investors and top-ranked universities have not moved to open campuses in the region.


Chris Pilgrim, the CEO of Transnational Academic Group West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana.

2. How can Africa build skills, capacity and create more jobs?

A. While there has been a modest growth of employment in the formal job sector in some countries, many of Africa’s youth are more likely today to take up work in the informal sectors and in family enterprises.

Africa, as a region, has the largest youth population in the world, and with over 11 million young people expected to enter the job market each year, its economies are stretched to productively absorb Africa’s greatest asset – this youth population.

While the continent’s education capacities and output are integral to leveraging this youth population into a potential demographic dividend, investments, both private and public, into relevant higher education capacities, particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) capacity, are limited.

In the long-term, addressing the underlying causes of unemployment and skills-gap lies in increasing enrolment in secondary and tertiary education, with a focus on STEM, thus enabling graduates to participate in the new economies and globalization emerging with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship are fundamental to creating the jobs of the future.

3. What is the increasing role of STEM programs?

A. While the vital importance of STEM education to infrastructure development, healthcare, energy security, agriculture, and the environment are well cited over the past decade, the role of STEM and digital skills in preparing for 4IR are potential game-changers.

READ MORE | Kenyan Approach Holds Promise for Boosting Early Childhood Education

African nations need to develop “future-ready curricula that encourage critical thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence as well as accelerate acquisition of digital and STEM skills to match the way people will work and collaborate in 4IR” (Source: WEF 2017 The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa).

Lancaster University Ghana has been delivering relevant computer science curriculum since its inception, and is set to launch programs in engineering this year, followed by additional programs in STEM disciplines.

4. How are you creating future leaders?

A. TAG Ghana works closely with Lancaster University to assure that our students receive an education that is relevant both locally, and in the global context. We work closely with industry and the community to understand their needs so our graduates are employment-ready.

Interviewed by Methil Renuka

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