South African Mineral Resources & Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe is adamant that African nations must unite to maintain fossil-fuel production in the face of “coercion” and “encirclement” by the West.

Speaking at African Energy Week in Cape Town last month, he accused the West of hypocrisy in its demands that developing countries stop fossil-fuel production while developed nations continue to produce oil, gas and coal.

“Globally, one summit after the other, certain industrialised countries refuse to jettison their use of fossil fuels [and] keep postponing the deadlines of when they will shut down their coal mines and oil and gas industries,” Mantashe said.

“The sad reality... is there has been a preoccupation with Africa, yet Africa is the [smallest] polluter compared to the other continents.

“This is a sign of encirclement — Africa is being encircled by the rich and powerful where we are converted into conduits of the ideas of developed economies,” he said.

Mantashe claimed Africa is being forced to bear the burden for the heavy polluters.

“We are being pressured, even compelled, to move away from all forms of fossil fuels, including resources such as gas, which have been regarded as key resources for industrialisation.”

The minister said: “Africa must seize the moment — we must position African oil and gas at the forefront of energy growth” and not be “coerced to take missteps”.

“As we move from what we know to the unknown, we [must] navigate that transition pragmatically and systematically. We don’t jump, we don’t swing like a pendulum from one extreme to the other.”

Mantashe put the case for Africa establishing a dedicated fossil-fuel financing institution and said intra-African trade in fossil fuels should be prioritised through the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement.

The minister was speaking just after South Africa received $8.5 billion from Western nations to phase out coal production and with the full knowledge that the government is committed to the development of renewable-energy sources as well as fossil fuels.

In South Africa, the transition is a huge challenge because the country relies on coal for 80% of its power generation and the industry supports a high number of jobs.

Even so, blackouts and brownouts are common due to the national utility Eskom’s crumbling infrastructure.

However, the government — riven by political intrigue and corruption — has put building blocks in place to transition from coal to indigenous and imported natural gas, while also allowing private companies to develop solar and wind infrastructure and invest in green hydrogen initiatives.

But even with outside help, this is not an easy transition to manage.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is walking a political tightrope within the ruling African National Congress to keep his arch-enemies onside and not destroy the party's strong electoral base among coal miners.

He must contend not only with the primary dangers of climate change, Opec secretary general, Nigeria's Mohammad Barkindo told AEW delegates, but also with “potential economic and social damage should the global community fail to deal with the crisis in a fair way that works for all developing as well as developed markets”.

Ramaphosa himself has said: “The only way for a transition to be successful is if there is broad commitment to a just transition — a journey to net zero that leaves no one behind.”

Commenting on the country’s gas policy, Tshepo Mokoka, chief operating officer of the state-owned CEF Group, said Pretoria has been “engaging with Mozambique for some time” on securing gas from the TotalEnergies-operated Area 1 asset offshore Cabo Delgado and from a liquefied natural gas import terminal at Matola within Greater Maputo.

“We are moving in a direction that is quite useful for creating [gas] markets in Mozambique and South Africa.”

Mokoka remarked that “Africans need to write their own story in the move towards a just energy transition” and that the continent needs “funding institutions that take into account our starting points”.

He also strongly disputed that coal-fired power should be eliminated quickly because technology may emerge that drastically cuts carbon emissions associated with its use.

“South Africa should be a leader in carbon capture and storage and coal gasification,” he said. “It does not make any economic sense for South Africa not to think beyond 2030 when the technology may be there.”

Mokoka argued South Africa could drive research and development in clean coal technology.

Akash Latchman, head of gas sourcing and operations at Sasol, said South Africa needs to have “a really responsible transition so people still have jobs in the mining industry — the ability to reskill is not something we can do overnight”.

“The way we look at coal, gas and renewables must be extremely well thought through. Whether we can transition as quick as developed countries, I am not sure, because of the societal situation we find ourselves in,” he added.

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