South Africa's Offshore Gas Strike - It's All Good, Right?

Photo: Total
Gas Field, Brulpadda, in Mossel Bay, Southern Cape

South Africa's business press, taking its cue from President Cyril Ramaphosa, is treating the discovery of natural gas off the Southern Cape coast like it's sunk a 70-foot putt for birdie. But the economic realities of climate change, added to the ingrained truths of the resource curse, suggest that lightning is about to blast the course. Do we play on or run for cover?

"Six months ago, I would not have taken people like you," said our driver, when we were negotiating the return trip from Port Harcourt to Yenagoa. "Now, it is fine."

It was April 2013, and government forces had just gained the upper hand in their campaign against MEND, the violently retributive Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. Although our driver was adamant that the situation was calmer than it had been in years, 12 Nigerian policemen had been killed by MEND gunmen less than two weeks before our arrival. The clampdown -- and hence the lull -- was in direct response to the sentencing of Henry Okah, MEND's leader, by a South African court. In early March, after he'd been given 24 years, Okah had promised that the "gates of hell" would be let...

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