It is back to the drawing board for the Musina-Makhado Special Development Zone.
A meeting this week between the farmers in the region and Chinese developers backed by the Limpopo provincial authority was cancelled.
The environmental impact assessment for what is South Africa’s largest special economic zone has been thrown back to the would-be developers as incomplete.
They will not be able to complete this within the legally required 103 days from declaration of their plan.
This involves 20 industrial steel and ferrochrome components and a 3 300 megawatt coal-fire power station.
Any future decision on this development will involve Environment Minister Barbara Creecy and Trade Minister Ebrahim Patel.
There might appear some conflict of interest between one minister determined to protect a hot spot of water stress, climate change and biodiversity; and another set on creating jobs and boosting the economy in the nation’s second-poorest province.
The project has been fraught with such contradictions.
Limpopo’s environment department has had to objectively assess the plans. Indeed it is this department that rejected the environmental impact assessment and incomplete.
The study was conducted among English-speaking respondents, thereby omitting those reliant on the local languages.
Meetings with respondents were conducted at short notice and were severely limited by the COVID lockdown.
Against this, the Limpopo Development Agency is championing the zone.
Chief executive of the project Lehlogonolo Masoga is on record saying it is too big to fail and anyone standing in its way will be replaced by an enthusiast.
The impact study contains contradictory findings. The project will have very dire economic consequences, it says on the one hand.
On the other it asserts that the project is sustainable.
Environmental and conservation groups opposed to the project maintain the near pristine and water-scarce character of the environment will be fundamentally altered by the proposed development.
One of the projects includes a dam across the dry Sand River.
It is hoped to pump water from underground aquifers in the Limpopo.
A R300-million feasibility study for this project has been put on hold.
Civil engineers who have had an initially look at say the international waterway cannot be tapped without permission of users and countries downstream.
Even if this were obtained, the pumped water would be three times as expensive and water ordinarily sourced from rivers.
Environmental lawyer Christo Reeders says Limpopo unarguably requires an economic boost.
But it has to be an agricultural development in that part of the country that provides 80% of South Africa’s fresh produce.
Apart from the irredeemable damage it would do to the local environment, an industrial project in Musina -Mukhado is impracticable and prohibitively expensive.
He says the provincial agency should urgently begin looking at an agricultural development for Musina-Mukhado.