Aspirations for South Africa to be "an island of angels" when it comes to resource extraction will see the country drift into poverty, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe has warned.
Speaking at the National Energy dialogue, hosted by the Central Energy Fund in partnership with Financial Mail and Mkokeli Advisory, on Friday Mantashe said discoveries of gas in the Outeniqua basin offshore of Mossel Bay is evidence that South Africa does have gas and possibly even oil resources, akin to those significant resources discovered in neighbouring Mozambique and very recently in Namibia.
"We do have them, but we can't touch them. Because we are an island of angels. Everybody else must explore for coal, gas, and oil [despite the fact that] these fossil fuels are going to be part of our development for many years to come," the minister said.
Legal opposition from civil society has served to temporarily interdict exploration off both the Wild Coast and the West Coast of South Africa. Both cases involve the use of seismic blasting, which the applicants say will likely cause significant and irreparable harm to marine and birdlife in the affected areas.
Meanwhile, 47 legal bids against Italian oil and gas giant ENI saw the company abandon its exploration efforts off the coast of Durban only to make progress elsewhere – like the Ivory Coast, where the company discovered crude oil offshore in September last year.
"That is the mobility of capital," Mantashe said, adding that lobbyists cannot be permitted to frustrate investment through the court process to the detriment of the rest of South Africa's citizens.
To this end, Mantashe said this issue had been raised with the Cabinet.
He said the Constitution provides guidance to development the country’s resources in a manner that is not to reckless and which protects the environment. Further, "this country needs a discussion on how to balance protection of the environment and development of the economy", he said. "If we get that balance right, we are going to be a great economy again."