A look abroad. Hydroelectric plants

Wars in the 21st centuries, some have said, will be increasingly caused by water resources, which are also essential to those States looking for ‘clean’ energy. Also South Africa – which hosts a mere seven hydroelectric plants within its borders – often had to deal with crises when looking abroad in an effort to boost this potential.

The most recent example is that of Lesotho, when at the end of August 2014, prime minister Thomas Thabane claimed that an alleged coup attempt had been staged against him. Thabane found temporarily shelter in South Africa, obtaining, after coming back to Lesotho, protection by Pretoria’s police. The South African government has played an important role in the following peace negotiations, through both Zuma and vice-president Cyril Ramaphosa. Many interests, in fact, were at stake: the most important was the Lesotho Highland Water Project, a system of pipes and dams that will convey water from the tiny mountain kingdom, which receives 60% more rain than its bigger neighbour, to the Vaal River System. Thanks to the first phase of the project, already completed, South Africa receives 10 billion cubic meters of water and this figure will increase to 15 billion cubic meters once the second phase, started last March, is completed.

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LHWP has also an energy-linked aspect: before it was started, in fact, Lesotho depended almost completely on Eskom for its electric consumption, but this situation may soon reverse, giving relief to the South African parastatal which already faces difficulties within its country’s borders. At the end of the second phase of the project, Lesotho’s energy production will grow from 88 to 110 Mw, leaving room for exports.
To reach the same goal, nevertheless, South Africa is also looking much further, namely to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the ‘Inga III’ project is underway: a new dam on the Congo river will be added to those called Inga I and Inga II, which are in the process of being upgraded, for they were built, respectively, 40 and 30 years ago. When completed, the new dam will produce 40.000 Mw of electric energy, almost doubling the amount of the biggest existing project, the Three Gorges dam in China, which can provide 22.000 Mw to the electric grid. According to experts, Inga III alone can provide energy to half the African continent. No wonder that Pretoria, which has already signed an agreement on the matter, is interested in the project and has obtained a share of 2.500 Mw out of the total 4.800 that will be the output of the project in the initial stage.
Doing business with Kinshasa, however, means getting involved in the troubles of a country which – from southeastern Katanga to the eastern Kivus – is still ravaged by internal rebellions and a ‘low-intensity conflict’. Also South Africa is in some way involved in this war, a further demonstration of the strategic importance of Congo to Pretoria. South African troops, together with those of Tanzania and Malawi, are part of the Rapid Intervention Force of Monusco, the UN mission in the country: the first ever United Nation contingent with an offensive mandate, which has already achieved good results in the fight against rebels.

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The South African military have recently been involved – in a less clear way – in a third crisis, in the Central African Republic. Here, in March 2013, 13 SANDF (South African National Defence Forces) soldiers were killed while protecting the presidential palace. Shortly before this the then-president François Bozizé was ousted by the Seleka fighters. The presence of the soldiers was officially motivated with pre-existing military cooperation deals but, according to another ‘Mail&Guardian’ report, it also hid economic interests of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and of some business people close to the party. The government, however, denied such circumstances.

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Uranium was among the assets listed by the paper, which specifically mentioned UraMin, a company specializing in prospections and active in the CAR since the years of Thabo Mbeki (South African president from 1999 to 2008). The deals mentioned by the government – signed in 2006 by then defense minister Patrick ‘Terror’ Lekota – also included clauses regarding energy. The article originated controversies which at the time affected the government’s image not only at an internal level but also on the international scene. In fact, Zuma had to manage such a crisis in the same days in which he was presiding over a summit of the so-called BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), a relevant partnership also for energy matters. (D.M.)


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