French fossil imperialism, South African subimperialism and anti-imperial resistance

Tripping up Total’s dash for Southern African gas

15 December 2022 by Patrick Bond


As protest against TotalEnergies stretching from South Africa’s Cape coastline to eastern Uganda rises, the main Big Oil target of African climate activists is facing an historic choice. It can continue long-standing patterns of fossil-centric, corrupt abuse of underdeveloped economies, governments, societies and ecologies backed by the might of the French state and its local proxy gendarmes. Or, as the firm claims it desires, it could genuinely transition into a renewable-energy supplier, capable of doing business in an honest and fair way across the world. The choice made by Paris-based CEO Patrick Pouyanné is not likely to be the latter option, for Total’s long legacy of colonial and imperial power plays is an ongoing embarrassment to those who still might claim that France plays a civilising, democratic role in Africa. Now, with climate considerations foremost in the minds of so many across Africa and the world, the pressure to break Total’s ancient regime is unprecedented. Yet what can readily be discerned from Pouyanné’s current ongoing obsession with oil and gas drilling in several Southern African countries is, in reality, an amplification of the contradictions. This was most obvious when Emmanuel Macron intervened in mid-2021 to arrange military intervention on behalf of Total’s $20 billion Mozambican gas investment: he pressured leaders from Rwanda and South Africa to deploy thousands of soldiers on behalf of ‘Blood Methane’ extraction. The ‘subimperialist’ role of Pretoria coincides with its ruling party’s desperate support for local oil moguls (who are contributors to its coffers), two of whom Total and Shell allied with since the mid-2010s, striking major gas deposits and pursuing further seismic-blasting exploration. But since 2021, two kinds of resistances have tripped up Total: Islamic guerrillas in Mozambique and eco-social protesters across the region, including the beaches of South Africa’s Atlantic and Indian shorelines, and villagers and environmentalists in Uganda and Tanzania opposed to an oil drill and pipeline. Protesters are gaining French solidarity, but in coming months and years, a more exhaustive campaign against renewed both fossil imperialism and subimperialism will be needed, what with the planetary stakes heightening as fast as Total’s offshore drilling deepens.

Introduction: A tough neighbourhood for even the most persistent oil firm

Three hundred Islamic guerrillas suddenly disrupted one of the world’s largest oil companies, late in March 2021, just as Northern Mozambique’s rainy season ended. The coastal town of Palma is in close proximity – less than 10km as the crow flies – to TotalEnergies’ $20 billion Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project in Cabo Delgado province. From there, the firm had anticipated drawing upon offshore Rovuma Basin deposits in what is considered to be among the world’s largest natural gas fields, with an estimated 165 trillion cubic feet of methane. After processing LNG, the objective is to ship it across the region and world, with next door South Africa a potential prime customer. Other firms with Rovuma Basin stakes include ExxonMobil, Nazionale Idrocarburi or ENI (which began export from an offshore platform in late 2022), China National Petroleum Corporation, Galp Energia, Korea Gas Corporation and the Mozambican national firm Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos.

But Total’s vulnerability to attack revealed a high degree of institutional hubris given that since 2017, a war had raged near the firm’s base camp. Total’s chairman and chief executive Patrick Pouyanné – in charge since 2014 and with the oil company since 1997 – ordered the second staff evacuation from the Afungi Peninsula complex in four months, declaring force majeure on its local contracts. The pause will stay in place, Pouyanné claimed in February 2022, until hostilities cease: “We will not build a plant in a country where we’ll be surrounded by soldiers… we’ll not relaunch the project as long as I see photos from refugee camps.” [1] The retreat was due to the “Al-Shabaab” insurgency movement’s attack on Palma, where hundreds of Total’s local and expatriate workers resided. The fighting, which killed at least sixty people over several days, did not actually threaten the Total compound, which was well protected in part by a notoriously corrupt Mozambican army whose troops regularly practiced brutality and looting. Indeed the Mozambican army’s pillaging of Palma after Al-Shabaab’s attack did more economic damage to Palma than did the Islamic fighters. [2] Yet while there was no immediate fear of Total’s existing investments in physical infrastructure being destroyed, thanks to the presence of the army, the firm’s vast network of supply chains and onshore road transport was utterly disrupted, as were other multinational oil firms then setting up Rovuma Basin operations offshore. [3]

A flurry of interstate diplomacy in April-July 2021 revealed how important the Mozambique gas exploitation project had become to global and regional oil politics. Within weeks of the Cabo Delgado crisis, in mid-May 2021, French president Emmanuel Macron met Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi in Paris. [4] At month’s end, Macron traveled to Kigali, Rwanda and Pretoria, South Africa to lobby Lobby
A lobby is an entity organized to represent and defend the interests of a specific group by exerting pressure or influence on persons or institutions that hold power. Lobbying consists in conducting actions aimed at influencing, directly or indirectly, the drafting, application or interpretation of legislative measures, standards, regulations and more generally any intervention or decision by the Public Authorities.
Paris’ two key regional subimperial gendarmes: Paul Kagame and Cyril Ramaphosa. [5] A few weeks later, both presidents had deployed more than 1000 troops each to protect Total’s LNG plant, at a site becoming known for its “Blood Methane.” Ironically, a year later in July 2022, Macron announced his desire “to create the legal framework to stop high-sea mining and to not allow new activities putting in danger these ecosystems,” while not mentioning deep-sea oil and gas. [6]

Earlier, in March 2021 just prior to the battle at Palma, the United States declared Al-Shabaab (or ISIS-Mozambique) as a Non-State Actor Group “Foreign Terrorist Organisation,” thus complicating future peace negotiations with the rebel forces. [7] Since the Islamic insurgency began in late 2017, more than 1500 attacks occurred, an estimated million residents were displaced by violence, and more than 6340 had been killed by late 2022. [8] Many were beheaded by Al-Shabaab fighters, if seen to be state collaborators.

This was also an area devastated by Cyclone Kenneth in April 2019, with unprecedented 225 kilometer/hour winds flattening the east side of the province, just a month after Cyclone Idai swept through the middle of Mozambique and neighbouring Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing more than 1500 and destroying Beira, Mozambique’s second largest city. [9] In central and northern Mozambique, Cyclone Eloise hit in January 2021, with more than 440,000 people affected, and in March 2022, Cyclone Gombe affected more than 730,000. Yet notwithstanding extreme and ongoing damage to the country’s economy, by early 2022 only 36 percent of survey respondents in Mozambique (not including Cabo Delgado) had heard of climate change. [10] Given the pro-gas reporting in the country and region, only very few would make the connections between the methane leaks associated with LNG, greenhouse gas emissions and Mozambique’s own vulnerability.

Fierce resistance of a different sort emerged further up the coastline in Tanzania and north-westward into Uganda, based on critique of Total by local community organisations (including women-led small farmer groups), environmental NGOs, a youth movement led by the charismatic Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate (closely allied with Greta Thunberg) and their international allies. [11] Not only did Total aim to drill for oil at its Tilenga project below the waters of Lake Albert, but it aimed to pipe it out through the 1445-kilometer East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) in partnership with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). More than a billion barrels of oil and gas are expected, if Total and the Chinese share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. the EACOP heated pipeline, whose endpoint is the Tanzanian port of Tanga. [12] But if the project goes ahead, nearly 19,000 households on 6400 hectares will be affected and in addition to local displacement, deforestation, other ecological destruction and pollution along the pipeline’s path, the damage done to the climate as a result of anticipated emissions would outpace the firm’s gross revenues of $36 billion by 22 times (if a $3000 Social Cost of Carbon is applied). [13]

And further south, in Africa’s largest fossil fuel consumer, South Africa, Total was extremely active in offshore exploration, refining and retailing. It had begun operations shortly after apartheid began, in 1954 (as Compagnie Française des Pétroles) and during that era, according to Alain Deneault, Total “enjoyed the firm support of the French Republic. Paris then played a double game, sometimes approving United Nations measures [against apartheid] while supporting the company… It was not until the 1990s, long after its peers, that Total implemented a policy of racial integration.” In 1986, François Mitterrand had prohibited sale of petroleum to the Pretoria government just as it was imposing extreme states of emergency, yet he exempted Total. Profiteering from a crime against humanity made Total “the target of opponents of the regime, who even set fire to one of its warehouses on 3 June 1982, while in Cape Town a bomb exploded in the French embassy building,” reports Deneault. [14] In the early 2000s, a lawsuit demanding reparations by Total (and other Western firms) was filed by Khulumani apartheid victims support network in 2008 (reaching the U.S. Supreme Court), but failed due to legal technicalities.

Along the same South African coastline in 2021-22, Total was the target of vigorous protests due to its seismic blasting oil-exploration plans, in league with the main local gas capitalist, Johnny Copelyn. [15] Injunctions were requested by public interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. lawyers representing fisherfolk, marine conservationists, eco-tourist operations and climate activists, and these halted the expensive exploration process in its tracks. [16] Copelyn’s response was that climate concerns were “poppycock.” [17] Copelyn had made a personal donation of $130,000 to Ramaphosa’s 2017 presidential election campaign, thus standing the country’s leading gas man in good stead for regulatory approvals. But these were provided by the state agency in such a sloppy manner, devoid of local consultations with affected communities, that beginning in December 2021, Copelyn and Total (as well as Shell Oil) lost five straight court cases over seismic blasting rights. Copelyn also worked with Total in Namibia, where the Venus gas field’s March 2022 discovery led to unprecedented share price increases for his holding company (Hosken Consolidated Investments), whose control of hotel and casino operations meant that they too became targets for environmental and community protesters in Durban and Cape Town.

In spite of the court defeats, Total and its allies continued seeking new seismic blasting opportunities into mid-2022, contested by the NGOs Oceans Not Oil and the Green Connection partly on grounds of anticipated gas flaring and implications for the climate crisis. [18] Total’s other controversial South Africa partner – especially in discovering the offshore gas deposits known as Brulpadda-Luiperd, estimated to be entail 3.4 trillion cubic feet of gas and 192 million barrels of condensate worth $1 trillion [19] – is Phuthuma Nhleko (chair of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and formerly chief executive of Africa’s largest cellphone company). He was also Ramaphosa’s main local business partner and was the purchaser of Ramaphosa’s $750 million Shanduka empire in 2016. [20] Ramaphosa was delighted to hear of Total’s Brulpadda discovery in February 2019. He called it a “game-changer,” while not mentioning the climate implications of so much methane gas, even though a few months earlier, Cape Town had nearly run out of water due to an extended, severe drought in which even Ramaphosa and other resident tycoons were limited to 50 liters per person of daily water consumption. [21]

Total initially found exploratory drilling to be extremely difficult in the Indian Ocean’s Agulhas Current, the world’s second most turbulent and fast-flowing (after the Gulf Stream) at 2 meters/second. The Brulpadda-Luiperd deposits are 175 km offshore the southern Cape coast, 1.4 kilometres below the ocean and then another 2km below the ocean floor. In a first failed attempt in 2014, Total encountered what one industry commentator termed “mechanical problems on the rig, caused by the challenging environment in the Agulhas, with its chaotic combination of currents, waves and winds, which contrasts sharply with the mild metocean conditions of the West African deepwater.” [22] Another apparent benefit of this site was the proximity to an earlier offshore gas field near Mossel Bay where PetroSA had developed a processing refinery. But that field depleted, in early 2022 the Mossgas facilities were closed, and there was no concern for 900 workers – most from the largest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa – who lost their jobs. [23] (Without any “Just Transition” prospects on the horizon, that union, in turn, shifted from its early-2010s’ eco-socialist orientation, to a stance that was explicitly pro-fossil.)

In late 2022, Total – often in league with other companies (especially Copelyn’s) – made several more applications to the South African government for offshore well exploratory drilling as well as further seismic blasting. [24] Critics led by the Green Connection, Oceans Not Oil, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and Extinction Rebellion engaged in periodic protests against Total, included in a dozen sites on December 7, 2022, the same day other African critics took Total to the Paris courts to halt EACOP. [25] In each case, not only must critics of climate-catastrophic capitalism seek to specifically trip up Total and its local corporate and state allies, often organising on local socio-ecological grounds based on marine conservation risks and potential losses to economic opportunities for eco-tourism and fisherfolk.

Imperial-subimperial relations tighten

But there is a more profound imperial-subimperial geopolitical relationship to encounter. Thanks to a process which began in 1963, when General Charles de Gaulle appointed the leading militarist Pierre Guillaumet as Elf Aguitaine’s head, the firm – which in 2000 was merged into Total – had “a special and incestuous relationship with Africa,” Le Monde recounted. [26] Still today, critics also must contest the French government’s support for Total, as well as countries influenced by what appears now as an imperial/subimperial nexus stretching especially from Paris to Pretoria. In his seminal definition of subimperialism, Brazilian dependencia theorist Ruy Mauro Marini stresses a crisis of overaccumulated capital within semi-peripheral economies, which drives the state into an alliance with a broader imperial agenda of corporate domination for the sake of capital export. [27]

In subimperial South Africa, the option of overseas capital investment by the (white-dominated) bourgeoisie has been a motivating factor for the expansion and indeed the permanent relocation of capital, hand-in-glove with the military. This was true whether in the 1970s-80s or 2010s. In the earlier era, apartheid’s super-exploitative peak was reached and the overaccumulation of capital set in, motivating South African corporates’ expansion. In the mid-2010s, the economy’s crisis of overcapacity returned following a brief (2002-08) investment wave associated with a commodity boom and domestic consumer credit liberalization. Expansion entailed for many local capitalists an initial foray into the Southern African region. [28]

However, the process was terribly uneven in part because of the rapid reputation that South Africa’s state and capital earned, even during the 1990s, as “the yankees of Africa” (a nickname in part given due to treatment of Mozambicans). [29] The Johannesburg-based oil company Sasol was a good example, insofar as its operations in central Mozambique were a caricature of a firm whose exploitation of gas wealth – and piping of 12 million cubic meters daily to South Africa – generated substantial profits for South African shareholders since the mid-1990s, and systematic underdevelopment for local people. [30] Their anger at Sasol occasionally bubbled over, such as when occasional xenophobic upsurges in Johannesburg and Durban generated broader regional backlashes, in turn – in one 2015 incident – compelling the gas firm to halt operations and even repatriate hundreds of workers to South Africa for fear of their safety. [31]

Since the slave trade began in the 1500s with Portuguese, Dutch and British explorations and settlements, the contest over social and natural resources in Southern and Central Africa was always bound to generate conflict, often deadly. In 2013, for example, following Paris’ terminal disappointment with the long-standing corrupt, dictatorial regime of François Bozizé in the Central African Republic (CAR), Ramaphosa’s predecessor – Jacob Zuma – authorised South African troops to intervene, at Bozizé’s urgent request. Pretoria’s 285 soldiers came under fire, and killed hundreds of anti-Bozizé rebels in a last-ditch “Battle of Bangui” defense of South Africans’ business deals. Those had been set up originally in 2006 between African National Congress leaders (including then-president Thabo Mbeki) and resource looters allied to Bozizé. In the process, at least fifteen South African troops died in the fighting, and Bozizé fell – representing a serious defeat for South African subimperialism, occurring the same week that Zuma hosted the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS BRICS The term BRICS (an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) was first used in 2001 by Jim O’Neill, then an economist at Goldman Sachs. The strong economic growth of these countries, combined with their important geopolitical position (these 5 countries bring together almost half the world’s population on 4 continents and almost a quarter of the world’s GDP) make the BRICS major players in international economic and financial activities. ) leaders for a summit in Durban. [32] (Within five years, the Moscow-based Wagner Group of mercenaries had moved into the same terrain, attracting strong critique from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.) [33]

Not only were the CAR’s oil, diamonds, and uranium sought by the South African ruling party’s investment arm, so too were defense contracts involving a private military firm, the Paramount Group. (Paramount also became involved in Cabo Delgado, deploying its mercenary subsidiary for a lucrative “training” contract in 2021, largely to protect the investments of Total and other Big Oil firms). These sorts of sordid conflicts, mixing geopolitics and primitive capital accumulation, are the basis for what Marini termed “antagonistic cooperation” between subimperial and imperial powers, [34] full of the contradictions associated with flexing of military muscles – in South Africa’s case inadequately due to austerity budgets – and shifting political alliances. [35]

As a result, fossil-centric imperial-subimperial relations between Paris-Pretoria-Kigali are today crying out for critical attention. The quid pro quos offered by the French government to African negotiators – Macron’s retreat on Covid-19 vaccine Intellectual Property dogma, his offer of a modicum of debt relief via the International Monetary Fund IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
(IMF) and even his hesitant confessions of French culpability for Rwanda’s 1994 genocide – pale in comparison to the rewards Total would give its shareholders and its former state owner if the gas and oil grab in this region continues. [36]

In other words, there are profound contradictions – environmental, political, economic and social – in these relations at a time several Southern African countries suffer thriving both state and corporate corruption, contributing to the world’s highest levels of inequality and a variety of social explosions. Whether the critics of Total, allied oil companies and their state supporters are able to mount an attack that is as all-encompassing as the conditions demand, and whether – as argued in the conclusion – broader critiques of national wealth depletion emerge as fossil fuel resources are drained (“unequal ecological exchange”), plus climate damage done by the oil companies is taken into consideration, will depend partly upon their own capacity to jump scale from local to global considerations.

In turn this will require them to both request and provide solidarity within a global “Blockadia” movement in society, far outside the bankrupt United Nations multilateral climate policy system. Throughout, several of the narratives against Total are considered, some of which are surprisingly effective in short-term defense against offshore gas exploration (e.g. in the courts), but others of which – especially in assessing the relationship of fossil fuel to capitalism – are only in their infancy with respect to the necessary politicisation of analysis entailed in an eco-socialist approach.

Total’s climate-deflecting politics

Organised life on this planet cannot continue as we now know it, given that extreme weather and more general climate system breakdown will worsen to unbearable levels in coming decades, as recognised now even by the International Energy Agency (IEA), traditionally a pro-producer think tank. The IEA now recommends no further exploration for fossil fuels given that long ago the saturation point was reached. [37] In spite of the obvious contradiction, however, the IEA does make an allowance for the continent with the least energy access, reporting in June 2022 that “Africa’s industrialisation relies in part on expanding natural gas use” because “More than 5000 billion cubic metres of natural gas resources have been discovered” which “may well be vital for the fertiliser, steel and cement industries and water desalination.” [38] For Total, Africa represents nearly a third of its annual production output and revenues.

One way to resolve the contradiction is through an alternative strategy for financing relatively lower-carbon industrialisation through climate reparations payments, i.e. historic polluters’ payments to African states and peoples, so as to leave fossil fuels unexploited. Even though it is being applied in South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Partnership, it is not acknowledged by the Paris agency, nor by mainstream commentators and even peace-oriented NGOs and intellectuals.

Yet the need for climate reparations is abundantly evident in Southern Africa, which from 2000-19 was the worst-hit region within Africa, as Mozambique was considered the world’s fourth most damaged country, especially as a result of the two cyclones in 2019. [39] Symptoms of climate catastrophe were accumulating along the coastline: warming of the Mozambique Channel often above 30c degrees, higher wind speeds, intensified downpours and ‘Rain Bombs,’ and unprecedented storm surges and cyclones including Kenneth in April 2019. [40] These were also reflected in ocean circulation disruption, sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, worsening erosion, higher CO2 levels causing acidification (with adverse implications for crustaceans), lower seawater oxygen concentrations, coral bleaching, fish stock depletion, heightened evaporation, and resulting increases in infrastructural destruction and worsened mortality and moribidity from malaria, cholera and influenza. (Aside from climate damage, the coastlines of Africa, like all ocean environments, also suffer from plastification, imminent rubbish gyres and garbage patches, pollution and over-fishing that threaten marine life ranging from phytoplankton and micro-algae up to whales and sharks.)

And the continent’s largest emitter, South Africa, also suffered climate disasters during the 2010s: sustained droughts in several parts of the country (resulting in a severe locust plague in 2021-22 once rain came), a “Day Zero” threat of completely depleted water reserves in the second city of Cape Town in 2017-18 and in several Eastern Cape cities in mid-2022, and in Durban, four “Rain Bombs” of more than 100 mm/day in 2017, 2019 and twice in 2022. The April-May storms dropped 351 mm and 267 mm, killing more than 500 people in mudslides. Yet offshore South Africa, in depths of more than three kilometers, the search for gas intensified, with Total and Shell leading the oil majors, alongside local partners Nhleko and Copelyn, firmly supported by a government and mainstream commentators unable to acknowledge the climate implications notwithstanding more urgent demands from environmental activist critics, public interest lawyers and climate scientists. [41]

TOTALEnergies (TTL) share price, 1990-2022 (euro/share) [42]

Total’s stance in Southern Africa ran contrary to rhetorical commitments that it was switching out of new fossil projects into renewables. Worth $155 billion in June 2022 (the fourth largest private Western oil firm, behind ExxonMobil, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell), Total’s US$ share price equivalent of $60 at the time was then far lower than the 2008 peak of $88, but it had more than doubled since the March 2020 pandemic crash when economic lockdown created such panic on stock markets and the price of oil futures Futures A futures contract is a standardized advance commitment, negotiated on an organized futures market, to deliver a specified quantity of a precisely defined underlying asset at a specified time – the ‘delivery date’ – and place. Futures contracts are the most widely traded financial instruments in the world. briefly fell to negative levels. Total’s prior peak share price of $72 in July 2014 represented a last gasp of the longer (2002-15) commodity super-cycle peak moment, and the 2015 price crash reduced the share value to $42. Its subsequent recovery was in part a reflection of a contradiction: strong rhetorical commitments to addressing the climate crisis in the wake of the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, yet a willingness to invest massively in further fossil fuel exploration and extraction at a time the price soared from its May 2020 low of $20/barrel to more than six times that two years later.

Had the Paris Climate Agreement not been so ineffectual – e.g. termed by lead climate scientist James Hansen as “bullshit” [43] – it would have heralded a complete collapse of Total’s share price. But world leaders were not serious about the climate catastrophe. They refused to mandate the necessary cutback on fossil fuel projects, and only at the 2021 Glasgow summit did they belatedly target coal for “phase down” (not even “phase out,” as was originally proposed). One reason for the reticence is that, beginning at the 2009 United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, a strong coalition formed between Western and emerging-market polluters and the corresponding imperialist/subimperialist policy makers. Having identified where four other key leaders were gathered, U.S. President Barack Obama barged in to arrange a side-deal, the Copenhagen Accord, with Brazil, China, India and South Africa – together with Russia known as the “BRICS” block (but in climate talks, without Moscow, as “BASIC”). Together, these regimes imposed upon the rest of the world a so-called “bottom-up,” voluntary (non-binding non-treaty) status for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). [44] Without any accountability mechanisms or penalties, Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the UNFCCC in 2017.

Moreover, the Paris Climate Agreement had done terrible damage to the cause of climate justice, for example by refusing to contemplate the “stranded assets” of fossil fuel firms, which gave a fillip to fossil fuel company shares from 2016-18. The Paris deal also legitimated the imperial/subimperial denial of climate reparations through a “no-liability” clause. Parisian elites were pleased that this was agreed to, because thanks in part to its single largest polluter, Total, France’s historic (1850-2021) emissions of greenhouse gases (due to fossil fuel and cement) ranked eighth highest at 38 billion tonnes (behind the United States, China, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan and India). [45] The “polluters pays” reparations that should logically follow – for the sake of both rudimentary “Combined but Differentiated Responsibility” morality and economic efficiency (to “internalise externalities” when there are market imperfections such as pollution) – would depend upon the Social Cost of Carbon adopted. Measured at $3000/tonne, France’s historically aggregated “climate debt” to the world would exceed $114 trillion, about fifty times annual GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.
. French fossil-imperialist “national interests” require that government climate negotiators permanently refuse such a liability. This they have done successfully alongside other Europeans, the United States, other Western high-emitters and the BRICS countries in UN climate summits, although a “Loss & Damage” demand from poorer countries has since 2012 continued to emerge in UNFCCC negotiations and such a fund (albeit delinked from liabilities Liabilities The part of the balance-sheet that comprises the resources available to a company (equity provided by the partners, provisions for risks and charges, debts). and with no serious donor commitments) was introduced in 2022 at the 27th such summit.

Similar calculations are possible for specific sites such as Brulpadda/Luiperd, where at least a billion barrel-equivalents of gas condensate are anticipated. If so, that would generate $32.7 billion in gross income at present prices, but the Social Cost of Carbon associated with that extraction is $780 billion, so the damage being done for every barrel equivalent extracted, would be 23 times the gross income. Additional costs would need to be borne by the South African government or consumers (as estimated by the International Institute for Sustainable Development), in the form of infrastructural costs associated with the most basic attempts to provide methane gas infrastructure – including gas plants, floating storage and regasification units, LNG terminals and pipelines – is in the $13-17 billion range. [46] Were such infrastructure built (without cost and time overruns, corruption and other economic, social and environmental drawbacks that bedevil South Africa the mega-projects), it would quickly assume the status of a “stranded asset Asset Something belonging to an individual or a business that has value or the power to earn money (FT). The opposite of assets are liabilities, that is the part of the balance sheet reflecting a company’s resources (the capital contributed by the partners, provisions for contingencies and charges, as well as the outstanding debts). ,” insofar as the broader costs of such investments to the rest of the economy – especially exporters – would soon become obvious. [47]

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall and feeling financial pressure from institutional investors Institutional investors Entities which pool large sums of money and invest those sums in securities, real property and other investment assets. They are principally banks, insurance companies, pension funds and by extension all organizations that invest collectively in transferable securities. who were being lobbied by climate activists, many of these firms did begin issuing “net zero by 2050” pledges, attempting to become “energy companies” (not based entirely on oil, gas or coal). Most of the net-zero rhetoric was, however, extremely dubious greenwashing, since so much (two-thirds for Total) depends upon unworkable “Carbon Capture and Storage” strategies, while other grand carbon-sequestration offset plans – “Nature Based Solutions” – typically assume unlimited land for monocultural timber plantations (and no rise in wildfires) or infeasible genetic modification of plants. [48]

In Total’s case, such corporate climate malevolence is well established. Historians Christophe Bonneuil, Pierre-Louis Choquet and Benjamin Franta note that beginning in 1971, the firm’s scientists issued initial internal warnings of rising sea levels due to CO2 concentrations, and these were systematically ignored, followed by “overt denial of climate science… from at least 1989 to 1994,” followed then by “multiple and subtler forms of agnogenesis, such as willful ignorance, responsibility-shifting, strategic philanthropy, promotion of peripheral solutions, and corporate controversy management… [with] a flow of complex, technical information that is difficult to interpret or challenge, helping Total to put the burden of proof on its critics and keep the upper hand in climate controversies.” [49] Only in the mid-2000s, did the firm endorse the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

To illustrate, just before the Paris summit, the company promoted global carbon pricing, to be administered by the United Nations (although as was accidentally revealed later by an ExxonMobil lobbyist, this was a strategic distraction – not a serious proposal – since it was extremely unlikely to be adopted). [50] But the flows of money within Total are revealing, for although in early 2016, Pouyanné announced “One Total 2035” allegedly consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement’s ambition to keep warming to below 1.5 degrees in the 21st century, Total was meanwhile investing in many other reserves. For Choquet, this is because the “persistence of short-termed compensation schemes in the higher corporate hierarchy impedes the elaboration and implementation of deep decarbonisation strategies at the firm level.” [51]

Hence from 2015-19, Total invested $77 billion in oil and gas capital infrastructure, compared to $5 billion in non-fossil fuel energy sources. According to the Reclaim Finance project of Les Amis de la Terre France, this trajectory – which Total admits includes its rising fossil portfolio up to a 2024 peak – would mean the company overshoots by 32 percent the level of greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 consistent with a 1.5°C degree rise. As a result, Greenpeace France, Notre Affaire à Tous, Les Amis de la Terre and ClientEarth sued Total in March 2022 for deceptive marketing, arguing that Pouyanné’s publicity campaign “violates European consumer law by falsely portraying the company as being on track to achieve net zero emissions.” [52]

To be sure, in mid-2020, Pouyanné’s write-off of $7 billion worth of Canadian oil sands project reserves raised expectations, because as industry analyst Gerard Kreeft remarked, “with one swoop of a pen, Total cast aside the petroleum classification system, which was the gold standard for measuring oil company reserves. The company simply decided that these reserves could never be produced at a profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. .” [53] The tar sands were among the world’s most expensive petroleum sources. But so too were Russian assets, including $4.1 billion in a Siberian gas project that Pouyanné belatedly and grudgingly wrote down in April 2022 following Western sanctions against Moscow caused by Moscow’s Ukraine invasion (during a quarter when thanks to skyrocketing oil prices Total recorded profits of $9 billion). [54]

Also expensive, especially for the environment, society and political rule, were Total’s Southern and Central African fossil investments dating back seven decades in Portuguese-ruled Angola. Today, Total is suffering losses at various sites in the region, due to a military conflagration in Mozambique and a sharp rise in environmental and social opposition to its exploration and extraction in South Africa.

The plundering of Angolan oil

Any analysis of Total in Africa raises the inevitable question of whether the firm is a so-called “fit and proper” foreign investment partner, in part because of the precedent of Angola, where the firm has operated since 1953, has 1600 employees and produces 45 percent of oil in the country. [55] In Angola as well as Nigeria, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville and Cameroon, oil-related corruption was prolific. One of Total’s former (pre-merger) subsidiary firms – French state-owned Elf Aquitaine – utterly robbed the peoples and environments. One scandal, with at least 305 million euro in misappropriation of assets (considered France’s worst corporate behavior on record), occurred during Socialist president François Mitterrand’s 1981-1995 term. It implicated his ally Loïk Le Floch-Prigent (Elf’s leader from 1989-93) and 29 other executives including Alfred Sirven, Alain Gillon and André Tarallo (whose nickname was “Mr. Africa” because of personal connections to the continent’s tyrannical rulers). In 2003, they received multiple-year jail sentences and paid tens of millions of euros in personal fines. [56]

Egregiously, while the Luanda government was at war with a rightwing guerrilla army – the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) – originally promoted by South Africa’s apartheid regime and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Total gave UNITA founder Jonas Savimbi generous funding prior to his death in 2002. [57] As Global Witness reported, Total’s leadership “bribed politicians, interfered in elections and lured governments into ruinous oil-backed loans in an attempt to protect the company’s market share. By funding both sides in Angola’s civil war, Elf helped to prolong a conflict that cost an estimated 1.5 million lives and displaced millions of people.” [58]

In this context, Total’s current leader Pouyanné began his career as Elf’s Angola manager in 1997 at the age of 34, during one of the worst epochs of corrupt neo-colonial extraction. The country’s president, José Eduardo dos Santos, was already in power 18 years and due to stay another two decades, until 2017. During the two years Pouyanné served in Angola, the Luanda regime was already being accused of massive oil-related corruption, for as Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported, “More than $4-billion in state oil revenue disappeared from Angolan government coffers from 1997 to 2002, roughly equal to the entire sum the government spent on all social programmes in the same period.” [59] In 2003, Angola was ranked by Transparency International as among the world’s ten most corrupt states.

Matters did not improve even after peace was achieved in 2002, for the International Monetary Fund discovered unaccounted spending (mostly in the petroleum sector) of $32 billion from 2007-10, leading HRW to criticise “corruption and mismanagement, including in connection with the state oil company, Sonangol.” [60] By 2013, Dos Santos’ eldest daughter Isabel – “Africa’s richest woman” – was exposed for her dubious acquisition of $3.5 billion in wealth by Forbes, through family-state enterises. [61] Isabel’s father nevertheless appointed her to run Sonangol in mid-2016, and when meeting Pouyanné later that year, as she put it, “we spoke for several hours, and from there was born an intense working relationship and mutual support.” [62] In October 2017, as Pouyanné tweeted, they met again to “decide Total’s future projects in Angola,” at a time the French firm was responsible 40 percent of the country’s oil production. [63] But a month later Isabel was fired by Dos Santos’ successor João Lourenço, during an anti-corruption crackdown. She was further exposed in the “Luanda Leaks” along with her pliable accountants PwC, Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey, [64] and by 2019 became the target of anti-corruption proceedings in Luanda as well as in Lisbon and Paris, resulting in a freeze of all her known assets. [65] In November 2022, Interpol issued a “red notice” for her arrest on grounds of embezzlement, fraud, influence peddling and money laundering. [66]

Meanwhile, the country’s oil reserve in the offshore Cabinda fields was steadily depleting. With Sonangol nearing bankruptcy in late 2016 in part due to the state’s Chinese borrowing (backed by oil as collateral Collateral Transferable assets or a guarantee serving as security against the repayment of a loan, should the borrower default. ), big oil companies complained of non-payment, and the number of offshore rigs fell from 18 to 2 from 2014-17. [67] As one Reuters specialist put it, “The search for the ‘Angolan pre-salt’ resulted in some of the most expensive dry wells ever drilled and sapped exploration appetite. Critics say the situation was exacerbated by Isabel dos Santos.” [68] Total’s joint ventures with Sonangol, Equinor (Norway), ExxonMobil and BP in older oil fields continued, and a national oil agency optimistically predicted that 2022-27 would see $66 billion in new investments in the sector, up 40 percent on the prior five years. [69] Yet in late 2021, Pouyanné’s attempt to revitalise Total’s stake in deeper waters failed, when offshore drilling at an unprecedented depth – 4.6 km below the sea – failed to pay off. [70]

Mozambique’s blood methane, for and against

Macron’s visit to Kigali and Pretoria in May 2021 had followed an unsatisfactory January 2021 phone call between the Defence Ministers of France, Florence Parly, and Portugal, João Gomes Cravinho. They discussed the merits of “a Western intervention” in Northern Mozambique on the same day Pouyanné met Nyusi to plan, as Vijay Prashad explained, how “to strengthen security of the area. Nothing came of it. The French government was not interested in a direct intervention.” Instead, after the Palma battle, reported Prashad, “Macron suggested the Rwandan army, rather than French forces, be deployed to secure Cabo Delgado. Rwanda’s force – highly trained, well-armed by the Western countries and given impunity to act outside the bounds of international law – has proved its mettle in the interventions carried out in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.” [71]

Distance was not really a factor, since French naval capacity exists fairly close by, at the island of Mayotte. According to journalist Nicholas Norbrook: “Given the French islands that dominate the Mozambique channel, and Operation Atalanta, the EU’s naval force offshore Somalia, Europe is well placed to extend naval forces into the area.” [72] The East African coastline was a site for drug smuggling, especially heroin sourced in Afghanistan and transported through Pakistan across the Indian Ocean, for trans-shipment to Johannesburg and then by air on to Europe. But gas was the new crucial ingredient that merited Macron’s intervention.

Total was central to not only extraction but also the construction and security arrangements in Afungi and nearby Palma where battles raged in late March. When social conflict with local Islamic insurgents became more severe, as veteran journalist Alex Perry recounted, the Paris firm is considered to have put its narrow self-interest above that of nearby villagers and its own contractors, because by that point,

Total knew to expect an attack in Mozambique. It knew that from its long experience with oil and gas as a flash point for conflict, especially in Africa, and in particular when a company employed the incendiary approach it adopted in Mozambique: cut a deal with a government known for corruption, keep the profits, and share as little as possible with the population… Perhaps most damning, Total knew an attack was likely coming, and that any bloodshed would affect all of Palma, because three months before it happened, the company’s own advisers warned that it could. [73]

In January 2021, Pouyanné signed a deal with Nyusi’s government – then ranked by Transparency International within the top 20 percent of the world’s most corrupt regimes [74]– for military protection. Total managers rapidly made space in the Afungi Peninsula compound to house 700 soldiers and 12 Ukrainian mercenaries with helicopters. The soldiers patrolled, but as one contractor complained to Perry, “We’d come across them midweek on the road. AK in one hand, bottle of beer in the other, motherless drunk.” By March 24 that year, “Total passed word that its staff would resume operations at Afungi” after many had been evacuated three months earlier due to insurgent attacks near the complex. [75] Also by then, the Mozambican government also recognised its own military’s incapacities, having first hired Moscow mercenaries from the Wagner Group who suffered high casualty levels – a dozen Russian deaths and two dozen injuries – in late 2019 and soon left. [76] They were soon followed by the South African firm Dyck Advisory Group, which complained that its attempt (in late March 2021) to rescue Total subcontractors under attack by Al-Shabaab were foiled by Total, whose “refusal to give fuel to rescuers trying to save civilians was stunning, and crippling.” Indeed several thousand local residents went to the Afungi fortress but were turned away by guards. As Perry concluded,

What Total also did, in employing drunk soldiers and security advisers who failed to sound a timely alarm, closing its gates to fleeing civilians, and locating its worker camps outside Afungi while its principal contractor relocated inside, was to show that, as long as it was protected, it didn’t feel responsible for anyone else. Total employed the very people it would later exclude to build the very structures that would later exclude them… Total announced no compensation and sent no public message of condolence. By its own count, it helped evacuate just 2,100 people, a mere 4 percent of those who had fled Palma. [77]

Total’s force majeure in late April 2021 meant the firm could reject its contractual obligations and avoid liabilities, causing chaos and anger in Cabo Delgado and ridicule elsewhere. [78] But Perry’s critique – from the standpoints of local community residents and international contractors abused by Total – reflected only one side of the story. Other critics demanded a different approach to the offshore methane gas: leaving it be. For example, Maputo-based political economist Tomas Selemane offered an essential rational for a Just Transition instead of Total’s resource curse: “There is no military solution to the conflict which has exploded in the gas-rich northern province of Mozambique since 2017. It will end only by addressing its root causes, among them, extreme poverty, unemployment, lack of health and education services, and lack of water supply.” [79]

To improve prospects for a non-military, non-interventionist strategy, could funding be made available to replace Mozambique’s fossil-centric economic strategy with one based on meeting needs, i.e., to leave gas (and coal) unexploited, and to instead channel funding towards a Just Transition? Such funding should not only mitigate climate crisis, but help the region adapt to further cyclones and droughts, and compensating for cyclone- or drought-caused loss and damage? These were audacious demands, yet even one African Union statement in 2020 statement also insisted on “implementation of the Warsaw International Mechanism” so “African countries should be supported to deal with loss and damage associated with floods, droughts, cyclones and other disasters.” [80] In the November 2022 United Nations climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, such a fund was actually established, albeit with no specifics on amounts and mechanisms. Nevertheless, Mozambique would be Africa’s most like recipient of donations, given the recent and expected destruction.

Ironically, it was South Africa – the government owing the highest amount of climate debt to the continent – which in March 2021 suggested this very strategy to the United Nations, through Pretoria’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) offer: “The just transition in South Africa will require international cooperation and support… by the international climate and development and finance community for non-fossil-fuel development in Mpumalanga…” [81] That specific NDC clause is just as – if not more – appropriately directed at Cabo Delgado’s gas fields.

The strategy of paying poor countries to leave fossil fuels underground was innovated by Ecuador’s government from 2006-13, so as to prevent oil drilling in the Yasuni Park (on its eastern Amazonian border with Peru, the world’s most biodiverse hotspot). [82] Could such financing for state social and development programmes – and in Mozambique’s case also ensuring a Basic Income Grant is available to Cabo Delgado communities – justify a halt to fossil fuel extraction? The climate link is obvious, [83] and organisations raising this demand include the Alternactiva progressive activist network, the União Nacional de Camponeses peasant movements, the Friends of the Earth Mozambique/Justiça Ambiental (JA!) – host of the “Say No to Gas!” international campaign – and the Centre for Living Earth’s Territórios em Conflicto project with scholar activists including Boaventura Monjane, [84] and Teresa Cunha and Isabel Casimiro. [85]

Given the subimperial factor in the conflict, regional solidarity would be vital. Several leading South African internationalist activist groups commented along the same lines, including the International Labour Rights Information Group and South African Federation of Trade Unions. In Harare, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development were similarly in solidarity. Regional networks committed to leaving fossil fuels under the Mozambique Channel and solidarity payments to compensate, include Women in Mining, the Rural Women’s Assembly and the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN). In Lisbon, solidarity protests were organized by Climaximo, 2degrees artivism, and the youth movement’s Greve Climática Estudantil. In London, Friends of the Earth UK offered support. [86]

Each made statements from April-June 2021 reflecting on the climate crisis and the need to leave fossil fuels underground, with increased aid to compensate Mozambique for both mitigation costs (including non-utilisation of carbon space) and concrete loss and damage plus adaptation. As Samantha Hargreaves (from anti-mining group WoMin) and Anabela Lemos (JA!) put it, instead of promoting a “suicidal SADC military deployment” based on a majority contingent of 1500 South African troops, Pretoria “must publicly acknowledge the climate debt owed to Mozambique by the SA state and polluting national corporations, and establish specific mechanisms to quantify and settle this debt. Given the pressure on Mozambique to not exploit the remaining gas reserves, SA should work with polluting countries to financially support Mozambique to keep its oil and gas reserves underground.” [87] That would require a corporate retreat, as JA!’s Ilham Rawoot told Progressive International audiences in July 2022: “campaigning against this monster must stay on the attack, until Total has no choice but to fix their mess and leave, for good.” [88] Likewise, SAPSN’s main mid-2021 statement insisted,

Emergency aid must be distributed to victims of the army, of the mercenaries and of Al-Shabaab, at a time the climate debt needs to be paid to Mozambicans, and at a time fossil fuels must remain underground for our future generations’ sake, the Cabo Delgado crisis requires the most urgent rethink by our entire society, especially by SADC’s leadership. Abaixo extractivism! Abaixo militarisation! Southern Africa is not for sale! Globalise the Struggle, Globalise Solidarity, Globalise Hope! [89]

The demand was also articulated by the SA Federation of Trade Unions in its 2021 Africa Day statement: “Instead of bullets and drones, the South African government – and all the other high-emitting countries – owe Mozambicans monies as a down payment on our elites’ climate debt. Just as is called for by SAPSN, this climate debt should be paid not via a plainly corrupt government, but in forms that directly support basic income for the desperate residents of that resource-cursed area.” [90] An online petition aimed at Ramaphosa reiterated not only the demand that South Africa pay climate reparations, but that it withdraw parastatal financial investments in Cabo Delgado – specifically gas loans by the Industrial Development Corporation, Export Credit Insurance Corporation of South Africa and Development Bank of South Africa – so as “to protect human rights and reduce carbon emissions.” [91]

It is vital to add climate destruction to the mess caused locally by Total’s Blood Methane conflict. Setting aside more than 1000 deaths where the loss of life cannot be priced, the estimated physical damages in Mozambique caused by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019 were “more than $3.2 billion, approximately as high as half of Mozambique’s national budget.” [92] A small fraction was provided in additional Western donor aid to the country, at a time official aid boycotts were growing thanks to Maputo’s failure to prosecute the corrupt borrowers (of the $2 billion in hidden debt) who were at the time leaders of the prior Frelimo government. In short, reparations for what the Global North – defined to include the roughly top ten percent of income earners in South Africa – owes the Mozambican people by way of climate debt, not to mention broader ecological unequal exchange, have not yet begun to be paid.

Moreover, an alternative arrangement would be required to gain support for this approach given the financial illegitimacy of the Maputo government. By 2021 there was little doubt among international climate activists that mobilizing grant finance (not loans) to “leave fossil fuels underground” in sites like Cabo Delgado should be a top priority for the COP26 in Glasgow. Even as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reducing already-miserly British overseas aid, Christian Aid’s leader Amanda Khozi Mukwashi insisted (just after the Palma massacre), “Vulnerable countries on the frontline of a climate emergency they did not cause need financial support.” [93]

Total did not acknowledge either the local crisis it was responsible for, nor global climate change. The lesson was not lost on activists fighting Total in South Africa, where fears of offshore drilling led to months of beach protests even as a new Covid wave was hitting in late 2021, and as the first South African soldier returned from Cabo Delgado in a coffin.

Contesting South Africa’s coming methane addiction

There are many dangers represented by South Africa playing the role of relatively ruthless, albeit often underperforming regional hegemon, given that corruption riddled the state, especially the security apparatus. The leading military-sector commentator, Helmoed Romer-Heitman, alleged in May 2021 that the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) “bluntly doesn’t have enough infantry” for Mozambique and its deployment against Al-Shabaab would be “laughably too small to do the job” with “no real reconnaissance capability, no tactical mobility.” [94] By early 2022, Romer-Heitman confirmed that even with more than 1000 troops in Cabo Delgado, the SANDF and other Southern African armies were “faffing around,” not “achieving anything”, because they remained “ludicrously weak and under-armed with criminally inadequate air support.” [95]

In June 2022, the insurgency revived just south of the Afungi Peninsual. Over the course of two weeks, a dozen attacks left 16 people dead and caused 11,000 to flee. Two Australian graphite mines closed down temporarily. And ironically, as Open University’s Joe Hanlon reports, “Construction of Mozambique’s biggest solar power plant was halted based on security fears following nearby insurgent attacks. The plant in Metoro on the N1 in Ancuabe has more than 120,000 solar panels, which are expected to generate 41MW, and had only just been inaugurated. French majority owner Neoen decided to evacuate all staff.”

The more aggressive Rwandan troops displaced the fighting from the coastal zone of Cabo Delgado to areas slightly to the west, as the guerrillas moved easily into forested terrain. But in May 2022, sporadic Al-Shabaab attacks continued, including a food raid on the town of Olumbe, just 20 kilometers from Afungi. [96] The influential Eurasia Group consultancy concluded, “The potential for Islamic State to provide funding and resources to the insurgents and the possible arrival of reinforcements from Tanzania will likely strengthen the insurgency, making the resumption of the liquefied natural gas exploration project in the next 12 years unlikely.” [97] But if the onshore approach was too difficult due to the insurgency, gas from the Rovuma Basin might rely upon Rome-based ENI’s much smaller offshore extraction platform in the Coral Sul field, albeit without nearly as extensive LNG processing as Total, and without prospects of a pipeline to transport the gas to the main local market of Johannesburg. Such a pipeline would need to travel through dangerous territory, south of the Afungi Peninsula – which in June 2022 was one of the directions the insurgency chose to expand. In September 2022, ENI began utilising a shipping contract with BP to direct the first output from 2km deep in the Coral Sul field to its offshore platform and LNG processing site, to send to Europe. [98]

In this vacuum, the need to more explicitly fuse imperial and subimperial forces was evident, so that a broader set of fossil-fuel interests could benefit. A Washington, DC analyst, Michael Shurkin, predicted more international support for intensifying the war against the Islamic insurgents, as a result of:

South Africa’s own vulnerabilities and energy needs; France’s interest at the very least in maritime security and any events that might negatively affect nearby French territories; Russian interest in the region, demonstrated recently by the deployment of mercenaries in 2019-2020 to Mozambique and interference in elections in Madagascar; and competition between China and India, which increasingly is aligned with France. [99]

South Africa’s alleged energy needs from the Rovuma Basin were defined firstly by its state-owned electricity generation company, Eskom, which was attempting to spin-doctor decarbonisation as a chance for “bridge fuel” regassification, and secondly, by the country’s main petrochemical company, former state-owned Sasol. The latter firm’s two-decade long gas extraction from the Pande offshore field in the centre of Mozambique was beginning to wane as depletion rates rose. In 2021, Sasol sold a major share in its majority-owned Republic of Mozambique Pipeline Investment Company, an 850-kilometer long routing that mainly channels methane gas to the firm’s Secunda and Sasolburg petrochemical operations. Secunda remains the single largest point source of CO2 emissions in the world and also an extreme local pollution hotspot (especially SO2 and NO), in part because of inefficient operations whose roots are illustrative of South Africa’s “minerals energy complex.” [100] Sasol had grown most rapidly during the 1970s, given the state’s need to avert United Nations-mandated anti-apartheid oil sanctions. The firm used a technology Nazi Germany had devised to squeeze oil from coal. [101]

At the end of the existing pipeline running from Mozambique to South Africa – through the central and southern part of the country – is a massive petrochemical complex at Sasolberg, including the Natref refinery which is mainly owned by Sasol but 36 percent by Total. However, the South African refining industry suddenly went into decline in the 2020s, given new petrol and air quality standards and the inability of the old refineries to justify crude imports, given that refined imports were cheaper from the world’s mega-refineries. As a result, even the two operations in Africa’s largest refining complex, South Durban – one jointly owned by BP and Shell, and the other by Malaysia-based Petronas with Nhleko as partner – shut down in April 2022 and December 2020, respectively. Natref’s fate depended in part upon whether a massive pipeline from Durban to Johannesburg could be retooled in a manner that justified further refinery contraction on sound economic grounds. [102]

By June 2022, another factor in the debate over imports was the Pretoria government’s willingness to more openly line up with BRICS partners China and India in an effort to break long-term oil and gas sanctions against Russia, with discounted refined petrol imports. Moreover, the other element working against Total’s operations at Natref was growing anti-pollution sentiments from local residents of Sasolburg and their national NGO and legal allies. [103] In mid-2022, a shortage of crude petroleum available in Transnet pipelines from Durban meant the 108,000-barrel-a-day Natref refinery shut down temporarily. Break-ins and tampering with pipelines are so common that in 2019-20, Transnet acknowledged 8.5 million liters were stolen by fuel syndicates. [104]

In spite of such problems, Sasol had originally envisaged that a new 1600 km-long pipeline to Cabo Delgado would be built, to connect to the Pande/Temane-Sasolburg route. That would allow the South African electricity parastatal Eskom to justify a 1000 MW coal-to-gas conversion for a nearly-retired coal-fired power plant close to the pipeline, along with a new 3000 MW gas plant in Richards Bay, also drawing on Mozambican supplies. Eskom’s leader Andre de Ruyter was formerly a top executive at Sasol, and had sufficiently strong standing to arrange for $8.5 billion in concessional financing at the 2021 Glasgow UNFCCC summit, provided by France, Germany, the UK and U.S. It would pay for not only solar and wind conversions, but also to make a new methane-gas inflow to the national grid possible, notwithstanding many objections.

This link meant that when testifying to parliament in September 2020, South African foreign minister Naledi Pandor confirmed that a “great opportunity exists for South Africa to import natural gas from Mozambique, thus the security of Cabo Delgado is of great interest to South Africa and her energy diversification strategy. South Africa’s security agencies need to enhance their capacity.” [105] And Johannesburg’s leading private bank (Standard) and parastatal financier (the Development Bank of Southern Africa) are assisting in some of the international credit arrangements. [106]

The ongoing violence in Cabo Delgado, including in the vicinity of Afungi in May 2022, and difficulty of not only reopening Total’s LNG plant but setting up a pipeline, meant that for De Ruyter’s ambition to establish massive new gas infrastructure, South Africa’s own offshore fields would need to be tapped. Total would be central, given that the Brulpadda-Luiperd gas condensate amounted to 9 trillion cubic feet, of which at least a third could be recovered according to the government’s 2021 gas master plan. That plan suggested that the gas would be piped underwater to the state-owned PetroSA’s Gas-to-Liquid plant on the shore (at Mossel Bay), by late 2025. [107]

But it was on South Africa’s Atlantic coastline that Total generated most eco-social resistance in early 2022, when its plans for seismic blasting became clear. Working in conjunction with Copelyn’s firm Impact Africa and a tiny company, Sezigyn (run by three men whose other online presence was in providing funeral services in rural villages in the country’s far north), Total chose a 3-dimensional exploration area (i.e. using much more intense, targeted blasting of the ocean floor). A British firm, Seismic Searcher, was scheduled to begin blasting in mid-January 2022. But having had a successful experience fighting a similar effort by Shell and Copelyn the prior month, critics remained firm. One online lobby group – “We are South Africans” – quickly got more than 10,000 signatures in a petition against Total and Copelyn. [108] Two narratives emerged: first, that there was no effort made to consult shoreline communities and fisherfolk; and second, that the dangers posed by seismic blasting to marine life were too great.

On the former argument, the leading public-interest lawyer in the movement, Wilmien Wicomb from the Legal Resources Centre in Cape Town, clarified how a judgement made against Shell two weeks earlier (in January 2022) “confirmed the right of interested and affected communities to be consulted meaningfully, which includes the opportunity to voice their concerns about the proposed project and to have those concerns adequately addressed.” [109] Total’s local partners (especially Copelyn and Sezigyn in the 3-D zone but all the other clients of Seismic Searcher) had simply ignored their obligations, especially in relation to Wicomb’s subsistence-fisherfolk clients.

And also in January 2022, a “Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies” within the Academy of Science of South Africa firmly weighed in against seismic blasting on marine-conservation grounds, detailing why “There is a reasonable apprehension of real harm to marine life.” Their case was based on the “lack of sufficient, detailed scientific information on South Africa’s offshore marine resources (both biotic and abiotic), and a flawed legal distinction between substance-based pollutants and energy-based pollutants, such as sound.” [110]

These two lines of argument proved successful in five out of six early-2022 High Court judgements – mainly injunctions against further seismic blasting – and were backed by dozens of protests attended by people of diverse races, classes and ages, with different agendas in attempting to halt Total, Shell and local partners.

The September 2022 Makhanda High Court judgment against Shell, Copelyn and two government ministries was relevant to these Total applications because

The intervening parties’ contention that the decision-maker gave no proper consideration to the climate change impacts of the decision to grant the exploration right is an important factor to be considered in the process of granting an exploration right… most of the discovered reserves of oil and gas cannot be burnt if we are to stay on the pathway to keep global average temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Authorising new oil and gas exploration, with its goal of finding exploitable oil and/or gas reserves and consequently leading to production, is not consistent with South Africa complying with its international climate change commitments. [111]

Likewise, when Shell claimed that the seismic blasting, exploration, extraction, transport and combustion “processes are discrete stages,” the judges insisted they be considered “a single process,” and hence ruled that “had the decision-maker had the benefit of considering a comprehensive assessment of the need and desirability of exploring for new oil and gas reserves for climate change and the right to food perspective, the decision-maker may very well have concluded that the proposed exploration is neither needed nor desirable.” This is especially important given the need to calculate leakage of methane at each stage of the methane gas lifecycle. [112] (Shell and Copelyn filed an appeal and the case is expected to reach the Supreme and Constitutional Courts in 2023.)

As a result of consistent defeats in the courts, expensive seismic blasting ships engaged by the firms to explore for gas and oil had to be redeployed. However, the consultation problem was one that could be cured, with Total attempting to find local allies especially on the shoreline and in black communities. The oil companies were aided by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, who began to put pressure on traditional leaders in mid-2022, anticipating the next set of court battles. There were still scientific debates to be had about the impact of seismic blasting on marine life, and these came up in expert testimony in one set of May 2022 hearings, in the Gqueberha High Court in the country’s fifth-largest city (formerly known as Port Elizabeth). Coastline and national interest remained high, with solidarity protests continuing through the court proceedings.

The debates about the potential for gas-based energy were not merely about the offshore sites, because several sites had been identified for onshore methane extraction, including fracking of the sensitive semi-desert Karoo and of the majestic Drakensburg mountain range between Johannesburg and Durban. In the gas master plan, Total was also singled out as a major player in potential retail distribution of helium gas, compressed natural gas and LNG that was being extracted by a small firm, Renegen, not far from the Sasolburg refinery. Total’s large retail station infrastructure could supply “trucking fuel to replace diesel” which was “expected to come online in 2021.” The schedule was over-ambitious but helium was a conceivable input, however small in the early stages, to the national gas master plan. [113] It apparently justified a June 2022 $500 million loan from a U.S. government agency. [114]

Much of the controversy in South Africa related to local-level processes, and these were the subject of further litigation in May 2022. There were national and global-scale dilemmas, however, that also began to emerge by mid-2022. First, in contrast to the economic riches promised by the oil companies, to what extent would the country’s “natural capital” decline in relation to reinvestment processes (especially affecting future generations); and second, how would drilling mainly for methane gas affect South Africa’s already extremely high greenhouse gas emissions levels, which per person per unit of output measured third highest in the world (behind only Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic), especially at a time the imposition of climate sanctions against imports from high-emissions countries like South Africa were being debated in the European Union (so as to avoid “leakage” in which regulations are undermined by “outsourcing” emissions)?

These latter two means of thinking and arguing about the environment, ultimately, are impossible for the fossil fuel industry to grapple with. Total’s ally Impact Africa attempted to do so in the Gqeberha High Court by relying upon one of South Africa’s leading corporate economists (Azar Jammine), whose standpoint was controversial: “The development of oil and gas facilities domestically offers an excellent opportunity to effect a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy…” [115] This is irrational not only on its face (since oil and gas are fossil fuels), but given the extremely expensive, multi-decade infrastructure entailed in exploration, processing, transport (e.g. expensive, unreliable pipelines) and combustion, especially when offshore extraction entails so many marine conservation risks and methane leaks are a major source of greenhouse gases.

One recent estimate (by the International Institute for Sustainable Development) of infrastructural costs associated with the most basic attempts to provide methane gas infrastructure – including gas plants, floating storage and regasification units, LNG terminals and pipelines – is in the $13-17 billion range. Were such infrastructure built (without cost and time overruns, corruption and other economic, social and environmental drawbacks that bedevil South Africa the mega-projects), it would quickly assume the status of a “stranded asset,” insofar as the broader costs of such investments to the rest of the economy – especially exporters – would soon become obvious.

The claim that gas is a “transition” or “bridge” fuel was debunked yet again by a Bloomberg reporter in a February 2022 article entitled, “The case against methane emissions keeps getting stronger,” warning of the dangers of CH4 emissions, which in the critical next 20 years are measured as 85 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. [116] The urgent need to reduce methane emissions by at least 45 percent during the 2020s so as to prevent global warming in excess of 2 degrees is not in question, for example at the United Nations Environment Programme, which records important public health co-benefits: “switching away from gas would reduce carbon dioxide and volatile organic compound emissions” that are causes of additional threats to public health. [117]

One argument on behalf of gas rests upon the back-up role played in the event of cloudy or windless days, and at night. For this purpose, however, already 2724 MW are available to Eskom in the form of pumped storage capacity in which water is lifted uphill by energy during the day, allowing for hydropower to generate electricity on its way down. (For context, demand on a typical winter day is rarely above 30 000 MW, hence at full capacity, pumped storage can provide 9 percent of the grid’s power already). [118] In addition, the mining and smelting firm that has been Eskom’s largest consumer, Anglo American (with current iron ore, platinum and diamond mining), has committed to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. [119] Anglo’s deal with Electricité de France Renewables calls for 3 to 5 GW of solar, wind and storage. [120]

As a result, the single largest Eskom customer, BHP Billiton’s South32 subsidiary – for its Hillside smelter (aluminium) at Richards Bay – is seeking zero-carbon alternatives including energy storage. [121] Pumped storage at the proposed Tubatse scheme arises as a result of the threat of climate trade sanctions, according to Mining Weekly. [122] As the leading mining magazine reported in early 2022, “the emergence of carbon border tariffs and end-user demand for green aluminium... could send the price of unabated aluminium sky-high owing to the large quantity of electricity that is required for aluminium to be produced.” [123] There is, of course, a more general case for rationing electricity and therefore disconnecting the South32 aluminium smelter and other guzzlers, contemplated even in the business media, given the irrationalities of the status quo. [124]

So perhaps there is a “climate sanctions” antidote to South Africa’s carbon and methane addictions, for a European Union “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism” (CBAM) will apply to large parts of South Africa’s export economy even if Total and other oil firms try to simply replace coal with gas in Eskom’s system. Isaah Mhlanga, chief economist at AlexanderForbes, wrote in May 2022 that

SA must cut carbon emissions quickly – to protect its own economy: Carbon taxes will be applied and markets will be closed to those goods that have a high carbon content… SA will need to decarbonise faster to protect its exports, and thus economic growth. This is necessary because it’s a matter of time before carbon taxes are levied on all sorts of goods, and markets will be closed to those goods that have a high carbon content. Even though SA has not contributed the largest share of carbon emissions by global standards, it must adjust at the fastest rate possible, not necessarily to be a leader in efforts to move to net zero, but to protect its economic interests. [125]

Indeed, South African exports will soon be subject to the EU CBAM or similar tariffs on imported SA goods to the West, affecting much of the industrial economy. Ramaphosa himself warned, “As our trading Market activities
Buying and selling of financial instruments such as shares, futures, derivatives, options, and warrants conducted in the hope of making a short-term profit.
partners pursue the goal of net-zero carbon emissions, they are likely to increase restrictions on the import of goods produced using carbon-intensive energy… We need to act with urgency and ambition to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and undertake a transition to a low-carbon economy.” [126]

Such climate-related trade disincentives will, according to even a South African Treasury report (August 2021), very soon create major vulnerabilities for exporters of iron and steel, cement, fertilizers, aluminium and automobiles. [127] The environment minister in late 2022 even acknowledged that “both Italian and Indian buyers of South African forest fibre used in garment manufacturing had cautioned her as the minister responsible for forestry that they would seek alternative sources of supply unless South Africa halved the carbon content of its forest fibre by 2030.” [128]

This problem will be amplified if a coal-to-methane gas transition occurs, not only because methane is a far more destructive greenhouse gas than CO2. Pro-methane advocates point out that European (especially French) elites claim that “natural gas” and nuclear energy should both be considered “green” (in the official EU taxonomy), a ludicrous July 2022 decision that revealed the many dangers of dependency on Russian gas imports and need to replace these instead of moving earlier to full-fledged renewable energy. Nevertheless, the likelihood of CBAM climate sanctions strengthening against both methane gas and indirect “embedded” emissions (i.e. the use of Eskom’s high-fossil energy generation in production), was strong, and would affect all future South African exports.


What can change the balance Balance End of year statement of a company’s assets (what the company possesses) and liabilities (what it owes). In other words, the assets provide information about how the funds collected by the company have been used; and the liabilities, about the origins of those funds. of forces decisively against Total, beyond the protests, or the occasional prosecutions of its bribery, [129] or the Al-Shabaab attacks, or the inevitable oil and gas price crash, or perhaps a financial squeeze from Total’s bankers, or corporate social responsibility regulation? The latter included France’s 2017 Law on the Duty of Vigilance (based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights), described by Antoine Duval from the Asser Institute as “apologetic and acritical... [joining] a long tradition of processes aimed at limiting the actual responsibility of corporations.” Referring to this law, several NGOs critical of EACOP and Uganda’s Tilenga oil well – Survie, Les Amis de la Terre, the Ugandan National Association of Professional Environmentalists and the Africa Institute for Energy Governance – together filed a formal complaint against Total, which was heard in a Paris court on November 8, 2022, with a decision expected in February 2023. [130]

Could power be shifted in future by punishing South African firms drawing on Total’s methane? The potential for European CBAM and other Western climate sanctions creates a profound contradiction, one that will affect resistance strategies and tactics in months to come. Although community and environmental activists have generally supported such financial and trade penalties against their corporate enemies, Third World nationalists and organised labour in affected countries (including Pretoria state ideologues and the Congress of SA Trade Unions) began lobbying against European climate policy, especially given the intrinsic hypocrisy of fossil imperialism. For it was galling that not only did the West still refuse to pay climate debt to poor countries. In addition, their economic policy-makers would now punish ex-colonies like South Africa – as well as even impoverished Mozambican aluminium exports – for their dirtier mode of industrialisation. This punishment will intensify during the 2020s, notwithstanding that the deep mining, smelting and other high-carbon economic processes adopted in the colonies were at the behest of earlier-generation colonial masters as well as current-generation multinational corporations (from both the West and the BRICS countries).

The Big Oil firms and parastatal agencies in the West were joined by those of the BRICS and oil-rich countries in expanding their “stranded assets”: reserves or drilling options so great that some observers worried that proper accounting of their depreciation would crash not only the companies but their stock markets. Yet the need to leave oil and gas underground became acute so that by May 2022, estimations of corporate, government and investor (e.g. pension fund Pension Fund
Pension Funds
Pension funds: investment funds that manage capitalized retirement schemes, they are funded by the employees of one or several companies paying-into the scheme which, often, is also partially funded by the employers. The objective is to pay the pensions of the employees that take part in the scheme. They manage very big amounts of money that are usually invested on the stock markets or financial markets.
) losses reached more than $1 trillion. The need for shareholders (or taxpayers) to write off fossil reserves as “unburnable” was greatest for investors or states in the United States ($350 billion), followed by Russia ($220 billion), China ($110 billion), the UK ($90 billion), Canada ($85 billion), Qatar ($60 billion), Norway ($55 billion) and France ($45 billion), as well as by Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Brazil. [131] Of course, this was utterly incompatible with these firms’ and states’ self-interest, so they resisted allowing the concept to be raised in United Nations negotiations. But that didn’t mean financiers (and climate activists promoting divestment) were not acutely aware of the contradictions.

As a further injury, when it came to existing depletion of natural resources in other countries, such as Total’s vast global portfolio, those same firms’ ongoing profit repatriation was often amplified through unjust “Illicit Financial Flows” based on tax dodges costing Africa at least $80 billion annually. [132] On top of this, the unequal ecological exchange from South to North – i.e, the uncompensated depletion of non-renewable mineral and fossil fuel resource wealth – added at least another $100 billion annual loss to Africa’s natural capital accounts. [133]

Hence, the Third World nationalist cry of “hypocrisy!” was well deserved. After all, at the World Trade Organisation WTO
World Trade Organisation
The WTO, founded on 1st January 1995, replaced the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). The main innovation is that the WTO enjoys the status of an international organization. Its role is to ensure that no member States adopt any kind of protectionism whatsoever, in order to accelerate the liberalization global trading and to facilitate the strategies of the multinationals. It has an international court (the Dispute Settlement Body) which judges any alleged violations of its founding text drawn up in Marrakesh.

in June 2022, the imperial/subimperial alliance was reconstituted when the agency’s leader – former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – agreed with Western powers that there should be no Intellectual Property waiver on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, thus cementing into place “vaccine apartheid.” The South African government had in October 2020 proposed a waiver (similar to what was won for AIDS medicines twenty years earlier at the 2001 Doha WTO summit), alongside India’s Narendra Modi and more than 100 other countries. And when he was making African visits in mid-2021, even Macron agreed that the critique of Big Pharma imperial power over the WTO required him to publicly retreat – as had Biden shortly beforehand – from what had been a Western united front. But failing to overcome dogmatic corporate-influenced governments (especially German, British, Swiss and Norwegian, the WTO reconfirmed the power of IP). [134]

Any time sanctions are imposed top-down – not bottom up such as against apartheid or against Israeli oppression of Palestinians, for example – there will be controversy over power relations. For some activists, CBAM was a top-down abuse of Global North power over the world trading system and climate finance, fusing imperialism and protectionism. But for others, these climate sanctions were of enormous potential merit in fighting local fossil capital and the likes of Total. Recall the grim prediction by Ramaphosa that CBAM represents a potentially devastating blow to South African exports over the coming few decades. Would this threat serve as an opportunity to force companies like BHP Billiton and Anglo American to drop their Eskom coal-fired power and urgently replace it with renewable energy (within the system as a whole) – as both indicated was likely in early 2022?

The power of environmental, community and labour movements was not adequate to this task, so perhaps an ever-tightening CBAM would serve the kind of function that sanctions against apartheid did in 1985: combining external pressure – made solidaristic by European progressive allies – with internal protest to context local-global oppression. The financial crisis that apartheid suffered nearly forty years ago – when foreign debt to GDP rose to more than 40 percent and short-term repayment was difficult – was a wedge that split apart the decades-old coalition between what was termed “English-speaking capital” (generally export-oriented and more vulnerable) from the racist government in Pretoria. In large part due to the weakening of the ruling class caused by combined protests and international sanctions, within nine years the apartheid regime was replaced by democracy. The short-term profitability of Western corporations supporting apartheid had shifted, and the power of activist pressure was clearly expressed in a pro-sanctions movement that had contributed to the 1985 economic crisis.

Can this success story be repeated, and a dramatic power shift achieved? Today, the most important feature of this comparison concerns the ultimate threat to humanity: climate catastrophe. That will require ever more intense critiques of firms like TotalEnergies, especially narratives that extend beyond a narrow NGO corporate-reform strategy (e.g. the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative), deep into anti-extractivist, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist logics. Indeed, given not only the Paris regime’s military and diplomatic support for Total’s agenda in Southern Africa, but also the South African government’s reach into the region, it is not only fossil imperialism but also subimperialism that must be contested. In this region of extreme uneven development, with some of the world’s worst carbon criminals and most acutely suffering climate victims, the need to fuse local resistances and global solidarity has never been more important.


[1Joseph Hanlon, “Total CEO: No gas return until all displaced have gone home,” Mozambique news reports and clippings, 587 (2022),

[2Joseph Hanlon, “Contractors accuse army of looting in Palma,” Mozambique news reports & clippings, 536 (2021),

[3Patrick Bond, “Global North ‘climate reparations’ to prevent Southern fossil-fuel conflict,” CADTM (2021),

[4Club of Mozambique, “President Nyusi holds talks with French counterpart – Noticias,” (2021) ,

[5Hassan Isilow, “France willing to assist Mozambique currently facing terrorists,” Anadolu Agency, 29 May (2021),

[6Reuters, “Stop deep-sea mining, says Macron, in call for new laws to protect ecosystems,” The Guardian, 1 July (2022),

[7U.S. State Department, “State Department Terrorist Designations of ISIS Affiliates and Leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique,” Washington, DC, 10 March (2021),

[8Armando Domingos, “Death toll exceeds 6 000 in Mozambique insurgency,” CAJNews, 6 December (2022),

[9Unicef, “Cyclones Idai and Kenneth Situation Report #11,” Maputo, 10 June (2019), Prior intense cyclones included Eline in 2000, Japhet in 2003 and Favio in 2007; prior to that, very few had been recorded. Mawren D, Hermes J, Reason CJC (2020) Exceptional tropical cyclone kenneth in the far northern mozambique channel and ocean eddy influences. Geophys Res Lett 47(16):e2020GL088715.

[10Trisha Patel and Jaynisha Patel, “Amid increasing weather extremes, awareness of climate change remains low in Mozambique,” Afrobarometer Dispatch No. 504 (2022), Cape Town: Afrobarometer and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation,

[12TotalEnergies, “Tilenga and EACOP: acting transparently,” Paris,

[13Jarmo Kikstra, Paul Waidelich, James Rising, Dmitry Yumashev, Chris Hope and Chris Brierley, “The social cost of carbon dioxide under climate-economy feedbacks and temperature variability,” Environmental Research Letters, Volume 16, Number 9 (2021),

[14Alain Deneault, De Quoi Total Est-Elle La Somme. (Paris: Éditions Rue de l’échiquier 2017), Chapter 3.

[15Tony Carnie, “Former unionist Johnny Copelyn bets on Wild Coast oil and gas bonanza,” Sunday Business Times, 6 December (2021), Copelyn was formerly a syndicalist labour leader and ruling-party politician turned business tycoon, with enormous wealth emanating from a ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ designation achieved (although he is white) by investing black clothing and textile workers’ funds in hotels, gambling and media ventures.

[16Thanduxolo Jika and Sabelo Skiti, “Dispute over black-empowerment ‘fronting’ holds up R117m government payment to HCI,” Sunday Times, 16 January (2022),

[17Energy Voice, “Impact Owner dismisses Seismic Worries as ‘Poppycock,’” January (2022),

[18Oceans Not Oil, “ONO Objects to 5 Oil wells offshore Cape Town,” Durban, 3 July (2022), and The Green Connection, “Our Ocean Total Destruction,” Cape Town, December (2022),

[19Helena Wasserman, “This MTN boss could make billions from the massive Brulpadda gas find – and’s owner could also benefit,” Business Insider, 12 February (2019),

[20Edward-John Bottomley, “, MTN’s leaving the Middle East after 15 years of controversies,” Business Insider, 7 August (2020), and Adriaan Basson, “Are the Hawks targeting Ramaphosa with MTN case?,” News24, 18 February (2019),

[21eNCA, “Ramaphosa: Gas discovery a game-changer for SA,” 8 February (2019),

[22Africa Oil&Gas Report, “Will Brulpadda, now spud, open up South Africa?,” December (2012),

[23Citizen, “Unions object to PetroSA staff retrenchments,” 12 January (2022),

[24Total’s line of argument – repeated in all these applications – is that “numerous strategies” in the government’s “energy transition recognise the place of natural gas production as one element… as a bridge on the path from reliance on fossil fuel to carbon-neutrality from 2050 (as per the Paris Agreement) and to complement renewable energy sources… The use of gas as an energy or fuel source contributes to reduce emissions while the country transitions away from its reliance on coal while also contributing positively to the economy.”

[25Nicola Daniels, “Protests grow across country over search for fossil fuels,” IOL news, 9 December (2022),

[26Horace Campbell, “African Union faces turbulent headwinds,” Pambazuka, 12 January (2017),

[27Ruy Mauro Marini, Dialéctica de la dependencia (México: ERA, 1973).

[28Patrick Bond and Chris Malikane, “Inequality caused by Macro-Economic Policies during Overaccumulation Crisis,” Development Southern Africa, 36, 6, pp.803-820,

[29Darlene Miller, “Changing African Cityscapes: Regional Claims of African Labor at South African-Owned Shopping Malls,” In M.Murray and G.Myers (eds) Cities in Contemporary Africa. Palgrave Macmillan, New York (2006),

[30Natacha Bruna, “A climate-smart world and the rise of Green Extractivism,” Journal of Peasant Studies, 49, 4 (2022), pp. 1-26, 10.1080/03066150.2022.2070482.

[31News24, “Sasol workers in Mozambique protest against SA xenophobia,” 16 April (2015),

[32David Smith, “Mysteries behind Battle of Bangui.” Mail&Guardian, 12 April (2021),

[33United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Press Release,” New York, November (2021),

[34Ana Garcia, Miguel Borba and Patrick Bond, “Western Imperialism and the Role of Subimperialism in the Global South,” New Politics, 18, 2 (2021), pp.52-62,

[35Patrick Bond, “South Africa’s Pro-Military Lobby Risks Worsening Multiple Injustices in Northern Mozambique,” The Thinker, 89 (2022), pp.69-80,

[36Vijay Prashad, “Rwanda’s military is the French proxy on African soil.” Mail&Guardian, 9 December (2021),

[37Fiona Harvey, “No new oil, gas or coal development if world is to reach net zero by 2050, says world energy body,” The Guardian, 18 May,

[38International Energy Agency, “Global energy crisis shows urgency of accelerating investment in cheaper and cleaner energy in Africa,” Paris, 20 June (2022),

[39David Eckstein, Vera Künzel and Laura Schäfer, “Global Climate Risk Index 2021,” Germanwatch, Bonn (2021),

[40Mawren, D., Blamey, R., Hermes, J. et al. On the importance of the Mozambique Channel for the climate of southeastern Africa. Clim Dyn (2022).

[41Singh JA, Le Roux A, Naidoo S. Marine seismic surveys for hydrocarbon exploration: What’s at stake? S Afr J Sci. 2022;118(3/4), Art. #13420. https://doi. org/10.17159/sajs.2022/13420

[42Bloomberg, TotalEnergies share price, New York,

[43Oliver Millman, “James Hansen, father of climate change awareness, calls Paris talks ‘a fraud’,” The Guardian, 12 December (2015),

[44Ana Garcia, Miguel Borba and Patrick Bond, “Western Imperialism and the Role of Subimperialism in the Global South,” New Politics, 18, 2 (2021), pp. 52-62,

[45Simon Evans, “Which countries are historically responsible for climate change?,” Carbon Brief, 5 October (2021),

[46Richard Halsey, Richard Bridle and Anna Geddes, “Gas Pressure: Exploring the case for gas-fired power in South Africa,” London, March (2022),

[47Patrick Bond, Comment on TotalEnergies EP South Africa (Pty) Ltd (TEEPSA) for environmental authorisation to undertake exploration well drilling in Block 5/6/7 off SA’s southwest coast,” 7 December (2022); contact author at pbond at

[48Patrick Bond, “The Case for Ecosocialism in the Face of the Worsening Climate Crisis: Dialectical Resolutions of Environmental Justice and Ecological Modernization.” Science & Society, 86, 4 (2022),

[49Christophe Bonneuil, Pierre-Louis Choquet and Benjamin Franta, “Early warnings and emerging accountability: Total’s responses to global warming, 1971–2021,” Global Environmental Change, 71 (2021),

[50Chris McGreal, “ExxonMobil lobbyists filmed saying oil giant’s support for carbon tax a PR ploy,” The Guardian, 30 June (2021),

[51Pierre-Louis Choquet, “Piercing the corporate veil: Towards a better assessment of the position of transnational oil and gas companies in the global carbon budget,” The Anthropocene Review, 6, 3, 243-262 (2019),

[52Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, “NGOs sue TotalEnergies for allegedly misleading the public over Net Zero marketing claims, accusing it of greenwashing,” London, 3 March (2022),

[53Gerard Kreeft, “The day after the night before,” Africa Oil&Gas, May (2022),

[54Le Monde, “TotalEnergies announces start of withdrawal from gas megaproject in Russia,” Paris, 28 April (2022),

[55TotalEnergies, “Angola: TotalEnergies sells its non-operated interest in block 14,” Paris, 17 January (2022),

[56Jon Henley, “Gigantic sleaze scandal winds up as former Elf oil chiefs are jailed,” The Guardian, 13 November (2003),

[57Radio France International, “Decryption of Elf’s African strategy: the African States concerned,” Paris, 29 January (2003),

[58Global Witness, “Elf verdict jails the guilty, but their bitter legacy remains,” London 22 May (2011),

[59Human Rights Watch, “Angola: Account for Missing Oil Revenues,” New York, 11 January (2004),

[60Human Rights Watch, “IMF: Withhold funds to Angola,” New York, 27 March (2012),

[61Kerry Dolan, “Daddy’s Girl: How An African ‘Princess’ Banked $3 Billion In A Country Living On $2 A Day,” Forbes, 14 August (2013),

[62Isabel dos Santos, Instagram, archived at*/

[63Patrick Pouyanné, “Avec Isabel Dos Santos, la CEO de Sonangol, pour décider des futurs projets de Total en Angola,” Twitter, 18 October (2017),

[64Sydney P. Freedberg, Scilla Alecci, Will Fitzgibbon, Douglas Dalby and Delphine Reuter, “How Africa’s richest woman exploited family ties, shell companies and inside deals to build an empire,” Washington, DC, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, 19 January (2020),

[65Kerry Dolan, “How Isabel Dos Santos, Once Africa’s Richest Woman, Went Broke,” Forbes, 22 January (2022),

[66Al Jazeera, “Interpol seeks arrest of Angolan tycoon Isabel dos Santos.” 1 December (2022),

[67Libby George, “Sonangol delays payments as it battles to reform,” Reuters, 23 November (2016) ,

[68Stephen Eisenhammer, “Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines,” Reuters, 15 November (2018),

[69Graciosa Silva, “ANPG predicts investments of 66 billion dollars in the oil sector over the next five years,” Ver Angola, 8 June (2022),

[70Africa Intelligence, “TotalEnergies fails ultra deepwater offshore attempt on Block 48,” London, 20 December (2021),,109712127-art

[71Vijay Prashad, “Rwanda’s military is the French proxy on African soil,” Mail&Guardian 12 September (2021), and Reuters, “The CEO of Total met the Mozambican President in view of a revival of Mozambique LNG,” 19 January (2021), and
Philippe Chapleau, “Le site gazier de Total sous la menace des insurges,” Ouest France, 21 January (2021),

[72Nicholas Norbrook, “How Mozambique’s corrupt elite caused tragedy in the north,” Africa Report, 10 April (2021),

[73Alex Perry, “‘I’m Still Alive but Sh*t Is Getting Wild’: Inside the Siege of the Amarula,” Outside, 1 June (2022),

[74Transparency International, “Mozambique,” Berlin (2021),

[75Perry, op cit.

[76Peter Fabricius, “Wagner private military force licks wounds in northern Mozambique,” Daily Maverick, 29 November (2019),

[77Perry, op cit.

[79Thomas Selemane, “From promised land to hell,” The Church in Southern Africa - Open to the World, 5:32, Aug-Sept (2021), Pretoria.

[80African Union, “Draft Africa climate change strategy, 2020-30.” Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2021).

[81Republic of South Africa, “South Africa’s First Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement,” Department of Environment, Forestries and Fisheries, Pretoria (2021),

[82Patrick Bond, “Climate debt, community resistance and conservation alliances against KwaZulu-Natal coal mining at Africa’s oldest nature reserve,” in B.Engels and K.Dietz (Eds), Climate Change in Africa, Frankfurt: Peter Lang Verlag (2018), pp.314-337,

[83Ilham Rawoot, “Gas-rich Mozambique may be headed for a disaster. Al Jazeera, 24 February (2020),

[84Boaventura Monjane, “Acumulación primitiva y la crisis del extractivismo: El caso de Cabo Delgado en Mozambique,” Vídeos ALTA TENSIÓN Jornadas Internacionales sobre Emergencia Climática y Conflictividad, 17 June (2021),

[85Teresa Cunha and Isabel Casimiro, “‘Cinderellas’ of our Mozambique wish to speak,” Feminist Africa, 2:1, 72-91 (2021),

[86Patrick Bond, “Global North ‘climate reparations’ to prevent Southern fossil-fuel conflict,” CADTM (2021),

[87Samantha Hargreaves and Anabela Lemos. “Suicidal SADC military deployment to Mozambique looms,” Business Day, 28 May (2021),

[88Ilham Rawoot, “A Total mess,” Wire, 6 July (2022),

[89Southern African People’s Solidarity Statement (SAPSN) (2021). Double Troika Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the SADC. Harare, 28 May,

[90South African Federation of Trade Unions (2021). SAFTU salutes the labour and social activists of our continent on Africa Day. Johannesburg, 25 May.

[91The petition demanded government oversight on mercenaries, asking “whether the National Conventional Arms Control Committee has authorised any South African private security contractors to operate in Mozambique,” and demanding that if not, “those found guilty must be prosecuted.” It insisted Ramaphosa “prohibit arms trading in countries in conflict where the weapons are being or may be used to violate human rights, such as in Mozambique, by withdrawing any export permits and prosecuting unlawful arms traders.” Another demand was that Ramaphosa pressure Nyusi to “release detained journalists and stop all harassment of journalists and all those addressing human rights abuses in Cabo Delgado.” (2021). South Africans call on our government to act on the Cabo Delgado crisis. Johannesburg.

[92Eckstein, Künzel and Schäfer, op cit.

[93Fiona Harvey, “UK urged to take lead helping poor countries fund climate action at COP26,” The Guardian, 29 March (2021),

[94SA Broadcasting Corporation, “State of the SANDF with Helmoed Heitman,” Johannesburg, 18 May (2021),

[95Joe Hanlon, “Civil war,” Mozambique News reports & clippings #586. London, 3 February (2022),

[96Luis Nhachote, “Faltering insurgency in Mozambique still threatens lives – and gas projects,” The Continent, 30 May (2022),

[97Luis Nhachote, “Faltering insurgency in Mozambique still threatens lives – and gas projects,” The Continent, 30 May (2022),

[98LNG Prime, “Eni’s Coral Sul FLNG off Mozambique sends first cargo,” 13 November (2022),

[99Michael Shurkin, “Understanding the Meteoric Rise of the Islamic State in Mozambique,” New Lines Institute, 22 June (2021),

[100Ben Fine and Zav Rustomjee, The Political Economy of South Africa. London: Hurst (1996).

[101This was not fully effective to replace imports, so from Switzerland, the oil sanctions were circumvented by U.S. tax fugitive Marc Rich. His firm was later renamed Glencore, and became the world’s largest commodity trader under the leadership (2002-21) of Johannesburg-born Ivan Glasenberg, who retired with a Forbes-estimated personal wealth of more than $9 billion. In June 2022, Glasenberg’s role in Africa became the source of enormous controversy as U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecution – based on multiple counts of bribery of African leaders including the Dos Santos family running Angola – led to Glencore’s guilty plea and a $1.5 billion fine. No Angolans or other Africans received any compensation, but it had become evident that during the 2010s, when Glencore was most notoriously drawing fossil fuels and commodities from the continent, his main South African partner – Cyril Ramaphosa – was part of the problem. The South African coal-mining tycoon, formerly a Marxist labour leader of mineworkers and the ruling party’s general secretary during the country’s most volatile transition years (1991-95), grew obscenely rich (with a Forbes conservative wealth estimate of $450 million in 2015) from corporate deal-making after losing political power to Thabo Mbeki in the mid-1990s. His Shanduka empire collaborated on various projects with fossil fuel emitters, and even though he sold it to his close colleague Nhleko – Total’s first partner – in 2016 when he was already deputy president, which he was compelled to as a result of embarrassing conflicts of interest (e.g. in dramatically raising the price Eskom paid for Glencore coal in late 2014), Ramaphosa appeared thoroughly committed to increased greenhouse gas emissions, and

[102Paul Burkhardt, “SA petroleum imports expected to triple next year as domestic refineries close,” Bloomberg, 6 May (2022),

[103Centre for Environmental Rights, “groundWork goes to court to defeat Minister’s plan to weaken air pollution standards,” Cape Town, 6 May (2019),

[104Tabelo Timse, “How armed gangs steal millions worth of fuel from buried Transnet pipelines,” News24, 18 March (2022),

[105Naledi Pandor, “Presentation to Portfolio Committee on Cabo Delgado,” South African Parliament, Cape Town, 2 September (2020),

[106Other sources of credit for the gas extraction come from the World Bank, African Development Bank, UK Export Finance, U.S. Export Import Bank, Italy’s SACE, The Netherlands’ Atradius, SA Export Credit Insurance Corporation, Japanese Bank for International Cooperation, Nippon Export and Investment Insurance, Export-Import Bank of Thailand and another 18 commercial banks.

[107Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, “South African Gas Master Plan Consultation Document,” Pretoria, 15 December (2021),

[108Vuma Earth, “Stop the Seismic Survey off the Western Cape Coast,” 15 January (2022),

[109Legal Resources Centre, “Legal challenge issued against Searcher Seismic,” Cape Town (2022),

[110Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies Sub-committee on Marine Ecology and Risk Mitigation, “Advisory on the Use of Deep-Sea Seismic Surveys to Explore for Oil and Gas Deposits in South African Waters,” Johannesburg, 10 January (2022),

[111In the High Court of South Africa (Eastern Cape Division, Makhanda), Case No: 3491/2021, In the matter between: Sustaining the Wild Coast, etc and Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, etc.

[112Ibid. What this means is that the life-cycle of natural gas is vital to account for, so as to quantify the total emissions in at least five stages: “upstream” gas production, including exploratory drilling, extraction, processing and pipeline transport; liquefaction; tanker transport; regasification; and power plant operations when the gas is burned to generate electricity. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with each stage must be considered at the outset, i.e., not only combustion, but also methane leakage at well heads, in storage, and in transport through pipelines that in this region are often poorly maintained or subject to vandalism and petroleum-product theft. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regularly made estimates about greenhouse gas emissions from such sources, in August 2021 new research showed that the source-based estimates were only half the amount of methane release that were picked up in satellite imaging and atmospheric measurement: Rutherford, J.S., Sherwin, E.D., Ravikumar, A.P. et al. Closing the methane gap in US oil and natural gas production emissions inventories. Nat Commun 12, 4715 (2021).

[114Ed Reed, “Renergen celebrates $500mn DFC nibble,” Energy Voice, 6 June (2022),

[115Cite for Jammine affidavit.

[116Akshat Rashi, “The Case Against Methane Emissions Keeps Getting Stronger,” Bloomberg, 15 February (2022),

[117United Nations Environment Programme and Climate and Clean Air Coalition, “Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions,” Nairobi (2021),

[118Pumped storage is defined by Eskom, as “A lower and an upper reservoir with a power station/pumping plant between the two. During off-peak periods the reversible pumps/turbines use electricity to pump water from the lower to the upper reservoir. During periods of peak demand, water runs back into the lower reservoir through the turbines, generating electricity.” The 2724 MW already available in three pumped storage schemes – Ingula, Drakensburg and Palmiet – does not include Cape Town’s 180 MW Steenbras municipal pumped storage capacity,

[119Karl Gernetzky, “Anglo American inks agreement as it eyes 100% renewable power in SA,” Business Day, 18 March (2022),

[120Dieketseng Maleke, “Mining company Anglo American signs contract with French renewable energy specialist EDF,” Business Report, 22 March (2022),

[121Charlotte Matthews, “South32 plans to end Eskom dependence as energy deregulation gathers pace,” MiningMX, 19 August (2021),

[122Martin Creamer, “Pumped storage has potential to throw Hillside Aluminium green lifeline,” Creamer’s Mining Weekly, 10 January (2022),

[123Martin Creamer, “Working on options to secure green energy for Hillside Aluminium ­– South32,” Mining Weekly, 7 January (2022),

[124Michael Avery, “Here’s an idea: mothball electricity-guzzling smelters,” Business Day, 3 July (2022),

[125Isaah Mhlanga, “SA must cut carbon emissions quickly — to protect its own economy,” Business Day, 1 May (2022),

[126Cyril Ramaphosa, “From the desk of the President,” The Presidency, 11 October (2021),

[127Treasury, “Tax Policy Discussion Document for Comment,” Pretoria, 15 December (2021),

[128Kenneth Creamer, “Just energy investment plan to be released for public comment after COP27 unveiling,” Engineering News, 18 October (2022),

[129Total was also prosecuted successfully in both France and the United States for bribing Iranian officials, with further allegations outstanding in Myanmar and Yemen. BBC News, “Shell admits fuelling corruption,” London, 11 June (2004),

[130Duval interview, 8 July 2022, and Les Amis de la Terre France, The National Association of Professional Environmentalists and Africa Institute for Energy Governance v Total SA, Versailles Court of Appeal, RG 20/01692, Paris, 10 December (2020).

[131Gregor Semieniuk , Philip Holden , Jean-Francois Mercure , Pablo Salas , Hector Pollitt , Katharine Jobson, Pim Vercoulen , Unnada Chewpreecha, Neil Edwards and Jorge E. Viñuales, “Stranded fossil-fuel assets translate to major losses for investors in advanced economies,” Nature Climate Change, June (2022),

[132Patrick Bond, “Bond comments on Ndikumana Boyce,” Johannesburg, 25 March (2022),

[133Patrick Bond and Rahul Basu, “‘Unequal ecological exchange’ worsens across time and space, creating growing Northern environmental liabilities,” CADTM, 19 May (2021),

[134Public Citizen, “CSO Statements in Response to Shameful Result on Intellectual Property and Covid at 12th WTO Ministerial,” Washington, DC, 19 June (2022),

Patrick Bond

is professor at the University of Johannesburg Department of Sociology, and co-editor of BRICS and Resistance in Africa (published by Zed Books, 2019).



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