25 March 2023 | 02:33 AM

Update: #EarthCrimes — Limpopo’s dirty great white elephant

Key Takeaways

Did China’s government just put a bullet in Limpopo’s dirty great white elephant?

It seems likely.

In 2016, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) declared a 60 square-kilometer area in Limpopo would become the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The plan was for a host of China’s state-owned companies to build R40-billion energy and metallurgical complex, including smelters and steel plants.

The development powered by a 3 000 MW coal power plant would be incredibly polluting and would require vast amounts of water in a water-stressed region.

*AmaBhungane dubbed the project “Limpopo’s dirty great white elephant” in a four-part #EarthCrimes investigations. Read part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.

But recently, China’s president Xi Jinping announced that China would no longer fund the construction of coal-fired power plants in other countries.

Last month, environmental group Fossil Free South Africa wrote to China’s ambassador to South Africa seeking clarity on whether this would affect the proposed development of the Musina-Makhado SEZ.

This week, ambassador Chen Xiaodong responded, confirming China’s commitment to “not build new coal-fired power projects abroad”. (Read the letter here.)

Although the letter stops short of plainly saying that none of China’s state-owned companies will be involved in the project, it has likely caused a fatal body-blow to the Musina-Makhado project.

The 3 000MW coal power plant was supposed to developed by PowerChina International, a subsidiary of the state-owned PowerChina group. (The agreement can be read here.)


Aisha Abdool Karim

Aisha is a freelance science and health reporter. She is joining the amaB team to work on a project about water and sanitation. Aisha’s passion for long-form narrative and investigative journalism was sparked while doing her master’s degree at Columbia University in New York. After graduating in 2018, she returned to South Africa and began working as a general beat reporter for the Daily Maverick. Aisha joined the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism in 2020 to focus on science reporting. During her time there, she covered the COVID-19 pandemic extensively — from fact-checking harmful medical misinformation to unpacking the science behind vaccine development. Aisha’s special interests include analysing health systems and in-depth coverage of public health issues and infectious diseases. She also loves spreadsheets and digging through data.

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