In his first speech as Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy at the Johannesburg Country Club this week, Gwede Mantashe gave South Africans a hint of what to expect. Seeing as the new super-ministry has been formed in the teeth of climate and ecosystem collapse, the ANC stalwart had no option but to address the issues. Meaning, he addressed them by not addressing them, as befits his affable, debate-loving nature.
"I don't know much," said Richard Spoor, "but I know not to hit a police general."
It was the morning of 17 January 2019, and Spoor, who in the past two decades had secured more victories for South Africa's mining-affected communities than any other human rights lawyer in the country's long and tortured history, was giving interviews on the pavement outside the Bizana Magistrate's Court, where he had just appeared on an assault charge.
A small group of journalists had come to report on the event, given that it had everything to do with what had happened the previous day in a village in the district known as Xolobeni. More to the point, it had everything to do with Gwede Mantashe, the national chairperson of the ANC and then-mining minister...