Desperate to put a positive slant on stripping SA of its natural assets
I HAVE been intrigued by a recent radio advert in which a firm but gentle female voice tells us all about the benefits of coal mining at Secunda.
The purpose of the long (and presumably costly) advert seems to be to inform us what a nice, caring, environmentally concerned company Sasol is. The odd thing is that the word "save" is emphatically repeated throughout the advert.
Thankfully, all was revealed on John Robbie's radio show last Monday. It appears that Sasol wants to start strip-mining on the banks of the Vaal river. Not surprisingly, the owners of properties on the opposite bank are less than enthusiastic about having to look out onto a landscape savaged by industrial plant as well as having to put up with the sound of mining machinery 24 hours a day. I imagine the air won't be too fresh either.
However, it's not simply a matter of further desecrating the landscape and pumping foul fumes into the atmosphere. The area affected also covers the Rietspruit wetlands, a place of great tranquillity and beauty which supports about 15 rare and endangered species of bird.
If Sasol goes ahead with its strip-mining plans, it will apparently need to dam up and redirect the Rietspruit river and dig up the surrounding wetlands. Sasol will also have to expropriate land to achieve all this, so it's not just in Zimbabwe that farmers' land is under threat.
The local residents and other concerned people have formed a lobby group called SAVE (Save the Vaal Environment) and this obviously explains Sasol's repeated use of the word in its radio ad. It looks suspiciously like a typical case of corporate bullying and the advert seems to be little more than a crude attempt to try and discredit the environmental lobbyists who are interfering with the plans of big business.
Corporate bullying is an ugly and growing trend. We have seen it at its worst with companies like McDonalds, who relentlessly pursue anyone who has the audacity to question their contribution to civilisation. Apart from being the world's major purveyor of junk food, the company also seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time and money chasing its critics through various courts and attempting to bankrupt them in the process. Not very nice people to tangle with.
The problem with corporate bullies is that they have plenty of shareholders' money at their disposal so they can afford protracted legal battles. They also employ clever spin doctors. These days you can't go wrong by claiming that you are trying to preserve or create jobs, but one can't help wondering whether the directors' share options and the bottom line isn't what this is really all about. After all, mining companies don't normally show so much compassion when it comes to retrenching workers.
Obviously, Sasol's mining plans for the south bank of the Vaal are of far greater concern to those who have properties there than they are to the vast majority who have never visited the area. However, if we are to protect the country's places of outstanding beauty we should be grateful to groups like SAVE, who are not only looking after their own interests but preserving something for future generations to enjoy. Had it not been for Sasol's extraordinary advertisement, I doubt if many of us would even have heard of the Rietspruit wetland. Now we have, I hope the matter will receive wider attention and that the appropriate cabinet ministers will intervene to protect our heritage.
Either Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is one of the most misunderstood and wronged women in South Africa or she is one of the luckiest. Although she appeared to be suffering from acute selective amnesia during her recent appearance before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it is difficult to believe that she was completely ignorant of what was happening around her. Yet the stories of murder, disappearances and horrific brutality seemed to come as a complete surprise, despite her vociferous support for the necklacing of sell-outs.
If we are to believe her version, all of the stories against her have been dreamed up by her political enemies. Even the chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, played the part of unofficial praise singer in an unprecedented tribute at the end of the hearing. It's extraordinary that somebody who claims to have led such a blameless existence should have been surrounded by so much carnage.