Gas and energy sectors remain untransformed, rural communities say

Johannesburg- The public hearings on the gas amendment bill being conducted by the parliamentary portfolio committee on minerals and energy have exposed glaring failures by the state to deal with the bottlenecks that deny black entrepreneurs entry into the gas and energy sectors.

Kwanele Hlongwane, speaking on behalf of rural communities in  KwaZulu-Natal’s north coast, told this paper that he attended the hearings on proposed amendments to ensure that ordinary rural people benefitted meaningfully in the mineral wealth on their ancestral land.

“The community’s voice, the poor and the marginalised must be heard because for far too long they have been relegated to being spectators in the gas sector.

“We will be watching with keen interests whether there will be any noticeable changes to the Gas Act of 2001. This is a problematic piece of legislation because it denies black emerging roleplayers to enter the sector,” said Hlongwane.

Hlongwane pointed to stringent protocols that must be complied with, saying it was meant to block new black entrants.

“Energy and gas are key sectors where dominant players refuse to accommodate small black players,” he said.

The sentiments were echoed by respected businessman and the owner of AmaZulu football club, Sandile Zungu, who said empowerment objectives must ensure that historically disadvantaged groups benefit from the sector.

“The problem is the corrosive influence of gas majors who are intent on alienating communities, which is unsustainable. It is very important that for the sustainable exploration and extraction of gas resources, we encourage community participation. This is not only a good thing to do but it’s common sense,” said Zungu.

The Zululand basin on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal has been identified as one of the areas for gas and oil exploration. The Department of Minerals Resources and Energy has already given the green light for the environmental authorisation to Sasol and Italian energy giant Eni to conduct the exploration. The drilling will also include the Durban basin, covering an offshore area of more than 4 600km2.

The chairperson of the portfolio committee on minerals and energy, Sahlulele Zet Luzipo, conceded that the Gas Act in its current form was undesirable.

“That is why the committee is soliciting inputs from members of the public. This exercise would ensure that their views are heard and eloquently covered and are also included when the bill becomes an act of parliament,” he said.

The gas amendment bill was referred to the committee in April by then speaker Thandi Modise. The next phases of the hearings will be held in Eastern Cape on January 17 and Free State on January 29.

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