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There are those who view our country as a Potemkin state: we may have the trappings of statehood but behind the facade we are an empty shell where crime, corruption, deception, and greed rule.
To those who see our facade from across the street, we are doing okay “for an African state”.
“If only we had our own oil and gas…” some would say. Whereas we might not be the holders of large oil and gas finds, we certainly own oil blocks – in South Sudan.
Two large ones, in fact. But what is happening to our oil blocks? Weren’t the agreements to exploit them for SA’s benefit already signed in March 2019? Didn’t a certain minister in the presidency (and his team) hurriedly fly to Juba to sign a mystery $1 billion (about R14 billion) agreement before the elections – and then suddenly resign? Pursuing this mystery deal were allegations of gross expenditure by this team totalling about R20 million.
Bandied about was the building of a massive oil refinery by South Africa and an estimated 60,000 barrels of oil per day.
What value do those oil blocks presently hold for us?
The answer is nothing. But what potential value could they hold if exploited? The answer is massive: it could change the shape of our economy and our future… Are we doing that? No.
The question should be asked: “Why not?” And do not be fooled – it has nothing to do with BEE, BBBEE, EE, or even the impact of Covid.
Those are for more finger-pointing rhetoric. SA took “possession” of the two large blocks, intended to boost our economy and provide us with cheaper fuel and oil.
Exploiting these blocks will also add impetus to the talked about but unattainable Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR) and significantly boost Treasury.
It will create jobs and dramatically reduce our fuel costs. It will contribute to our studies and understanding of fossil fuels. It will redirect our failing economic trajectory.
So why hasn’t this happened? The key to the answer lies in insatiable greed that is found in the infighting tearing our Xhoza Nostra apart, and where the capos want personal control over the blocks as opposed to state control.
This greed starts in the highest offices of our ruling party and reaches into the desolation of South Sudan where our two blocks lie, patiently waiting to be exploited.
Thus far, exploitation has been elsewhere. But we will get there shortly… It is high time the president established and mandated a state oil company which acts independently of the minister of energy.
This company ought to report instead to the Central Energy Fund to ensure total transparency.
Such a state oil company must be run by our educated and younger generation who understand economics, who have ideas and knowledge and where appointments are not based on colour but on merit – and definitely not on the current system of cadre deployment where incompetent loyalists are rewarded with high office.
But things are not working that way.
The Strategic Fuel Fund is supposedly tasked to “prudently manage our country’s strategic crude oil stockpile”, as well as commercialise its substantial crude oil storage facilities in the Western Cape.
Instead, the Strategic Fuel Fund has already spent in excess of $40 million to set up offices in South Sudan, but with no appointed staff.
One might ask how this is possible. The answer surely lies somewhere in the halls of power, but what is certain is that the citizens of South Africa are not benefiting from this expenditure or gross tardiness.
The president of South Sudan has been asking the South African government to show some will and start the process of exploration and exploitation.
If this is not done, South Sudan intends to sell the oil block to a country or countries that are actually willing to exploit them.
What will happen to the wasteful expenditure already incurred? Or is this entire saga merely oiling the wheels of corruption?
If so, when will it, if ever, stop? To paraphrase the late Steve Biko, the wealth of the country must be enjoyed by all of the people – and not only by a small elite.