Jean-Jacques Cornish

An impracticable project that will wreck the environment

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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.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.