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Beyond Sub-Imperial War, ‘Blood Methane’, and Climate-Debt Denialism: South Africa’s Pro-Military Lobby Risks Worsening Multiple Injustices in Northern Mozambique



South Africans really must confront two conjoined crises that affect both the majority here, and the vast majority next door in Mozambique. First, the climate catastrophe’s amplification due to rising dependency upon Liquefied Natural Gas (which is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in coming decades), leaving our neighbour as the world’s fourth worst-affected country since 2000, at a time when South Africa is already the third-highest greenhouse gas emitter per person/ GDP among major countries. Second, the deplorable trajectory of Pretoria’s sub-imperialist adventurism, now represented by the army’s deployment in CaboDelgado province in order to promote gas drilling by multinational corporations. In part because of the corrupt, repressive Maputo government, many Southern African civil society organisations regularly appeal for an end to both Mozambique’s ‘blood methane’ war and, behind it, the fossil fuel extraction that amplifies the climate crisis. The innovative demand is for Global-North payment of climate reparations to victims of extreme weather, plus financial compensation so as to leave the world’s fourth-largest gas ftield unexploited. Against these arguments and movements, there is a vociferous South African lobby—which can be termed ‘laptop bombardiers’—ignoring or brazenly dismissing both crises: climate and the danger of further sub-imperial mishaps. It is long overdue to confront this lobby by objecting to damaging fossil fuels and militarism, and call it to account for the vast ethical lapses in their analyses.
Beyond Sub-Imperial War, ‘Blood
Methane’, and Climate-Debt Denialism:
South Africa’s Pro-Military
Lobby Risks Worsening
Multiple Injustices in
Northern Mozambique
South Africans really must conf ront two conjoined
crises that affect both the majority here, and the
vast majority next door in Mozambique. First,
the climate catastrophe’s amplification due to rising
dependency upon Liquefied Natural Gas (which
is more than 80 times more potent than carbon
dioxide in coming decades), leaving our neighbour
as the world’s fourth worst-affected country since
2000, at a time when South Africa is already the
third-highest greenhouse gas emitter per person/
GDP among major countries. Second, the deplorable
trajectory of Pretoria’s sub-imperialist adventurism,
now represented by the army’s deployment in Cabo
Delgado province in order to promote gas drilling
by multinational corporations. In part because
of the corrupt, repressive Maputo government,
many Southern African civil society organisations
regularly appeal for an end to both Mozambique’s
‘blood methane’ war and, behind it, the fossil fuel
extraction that amplifies the climate crisis. The
innovative demand is for Global-North payment of
climate reparations to victims of extreme weather,
plus financial compensation so as to leave the world’s
fourth-largest gas ftield unexploited. Against these
arguments and movements, there is a vociferous
South African lobby—which can be termed ‘laptop
bombardiers’—ignoring or brazenly dismissing both
crises: climate and the danger of further sub-imperial
mishaps. It is long overdue to confront this lobby by
objecting to damaging fossil fuels and militarism,
and call it to account for the vast ethical lapses in
their analyses.
By Patrick Bond | Opinion
Volume 90 / 2022
On 22 December 2021, 31-year-old Tebogo Radebe’s
life ended in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. He was
a corporal in the SA National Defence Force, and
was a tragic casualty—fighting within the regional
Southern African Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM)
deployment—along with a few other soldiers from the
region and from the Rwandan army. Also perishing
in battles involving SAMIM since mid-2021 have been
scores, if not hundreds, of Mozambicans, mainly
Islamicist insurgents, but also innocent bystanders
caught in the cross-fire. The destruction since late
2017 has included more than 800,000 displaced
people and 3,000 fatalities, plus extremely high ratios
of infrastructure and crop damage.
There is a sub-imperial context to this battle ground
that must be openly acknowledged, partly because
all public-intellectual commentary and certainly all
scholarship really should include acknowledgements
of both the worsening climate catastrophe in the
region, and the deplorable power relations between
multinational Big Oil corporations (and allied Northern
governments), South African elites (including its
largest oil company, Sasol), and Mozambique’s ruler
on the one hand, and people and planet on the
other. Yet a group of South African fossil-militarist
commentators, overwhelmingly drawn from a certain
generation and race group, seem to have no qualms
about downplaying either the climate implications of
exploiting the world’s fourth largest gas field in terms
of climate, or the sub-imperial ethics of regional armies
intervening to prop up multinational oil companies,
as they incessantly drum-beat in favour of war.
University of the Free State political science
department chair Theodor Neethling (2021a) is just
one of many scholars to promote both Liquefied
Natural Gas (LNG) and military intervention:
‘The LNG projects in the northern Cabo Del-
gado area, with major gas reserves attracting
an estimated total investment of more than
$50 billion, represent a silver lining of hope
for this impoverished country in terms of
major international investment and revenue
generation. Observers often assert that this
could pave the way for the country to be-
come Africa’s Qatar or even Dubai from 2024
onwards… the LNG industry in Mozambique
could revolutionise the economy of the
The ‘revolution’ is in good hands, claims Neethling
‘At government level, the Mozambican head
of state, President Filipe Nyusi, plays a key
role in the country’s LNG sector. In fact,
he was elected 2020 Person of the Year by
Africa Oil & Power, the African continent’s
leading investment platform for the energy
sector. This prestigious award is presented to
individuals who are considered exceptional
and who display true leadership and innova-
tive thinking in the steering of their countries
or organisations to the forefront of the global
energy sector. Thus, a lack of political com-
mitment to the LNG sector does not seem to
be an issue or risk in the development of the
LNG sector in Mozambique.’
Who will defend the fossil revolution—and especially
the expensive new Cabo Delgado LNG investments
by Total, ExxonMobil, ENI, Galp, and China National
Petroleum Corporation—and with it, Maputo’s gallant
revolutionary leader against rising Islamic terror?
Though Nyusi and his close allies are, in reality, a
corrupt, brutal tyranny (Norbrook, 2021), Neethling
is enthused about several armies marching to the
rescue: ‘On the positive side, an agreement was
reached in June 2021 by the leaders of the Southern
African Development Community (SADC) to deploy
forces from the regional organisation in Cabo Delgado
to assist the government of Mozambique in its fight
against the insurgents.’
Questions arise:
What assumptions of Neethling’s deserve
questioning, and what indeed are the roots of this
way of thinking and arguing?
Why would climate dangers to Mozambique’s
extremely vulnerable coastline, inland
infrastructure and agricultural land be completely
ignored, when reporting on the world’s fourth-
largest source field for LNG—made up mainly of
methane, whose climate-destructive potency via
extraction, processing, storage, transport, and
combustion is more than 80 times worse than
CO2 (the main cause of the climate catastrophe),
in the coming (critical) two decades and 25
times worse over the coming century (Stanford
University, 2022)?
Why is the climate import of this gas identified by
Neethling merely as an economic (trade-related)
risk, insofar as he correctly notes that Western
sanctions on imports from countries relying on
high levels of greenhouse-gas-sourced energy
are due to begin in 2023—but with no reference to
the cyclones, floods, droughts, and other damage
that have made Mozambique the world’s fourth
most adversely affected country from climate
change this century (ReliefWeb, 2021)?
And how, in this analysis, can the SADC leaders’
own abundant military abuses—especially
by South Africa’s troops in the region when
protecting other multinational-corporate
extractive industries, but also other armies’ brutal
actions against citizenries in Zimbabwe, Eswatini,
and Angola—simply go unremarked upon?
Neethling and others in this tradition are genuinely
playing with fire, and their lack of rigour and ethics
are yet more glaring—being white, apartheid-era
beneficiaries of an extremely carbon-intensive
economy whose military’s sub-imperialist role
included not just repressing local democrats, but
defending a crime against humanity. That background
really requires an extra level of critical introspection
not apparent in their recent commentary.
Sub-Imperial Cheerleaders
An anonymous analyst at the Texas-based political
consultancy Stratfor—a firm referred to by Barrons as
a ‘shadow Central Intelligence Agency’ (Laing, 2001)
and whose main database was exposed by WikiLeaks
in 2012—assessed South Africa’s long-term sub-
imperialist fusion of economic interests and regional
military prowess:
‘South Africa’s history is driven by the in-
terplay of competition and cohabitation
between domestic and foreign interests
exploiting the country’s mineral resources.
Despite being led by a democratically-elect-
ed government, the core imperatives of
South Africa remain: maintenance of a liberal
regime that permits the free flow of labor
and capital to and from the southern Africa
region, and maintenance of a superior secu-
rity capability able to project into south-cen-
tral Africa.’ (Stratfor, 2009)
Over the subsequent dozen years, the war-making
capacities of the South African Defence Force
(SANDF) deteriorated substantially, even as it was
called into service in several African missions. The
army’s performances in south-central Africa—as well
as at home—were open to various forms of criticism,
not least that in a democratic society, the merits of
sending troops abroad to risk their lives on behalf
of opaque but plainly corrupt ruling-party players
and multinational corporations should be subject
to social debate. In spite of the objectionable—often
self-destructive—manner in which SANDF forces
were deployed in, most notably, the Central African
Republic’s capital Bangui in 2012–13 and the mineral-
rich eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo for
much longer, and in spite of continuities associated
with sub-imperialist violence dating well before 1994,
the regional-militarist lobby is ascendant.
This is easily observed today by considering
Mozambique’s ‘blood methane’ war. (The term recalls
the Zimbabwe Defence Force’s role in Manicaland’s
‘blood diamonds’ conflict: on behalf of Chinese and
Israeli capital and the Mugabe-Mnangagwa regime’s
generals, hundreds of local working-class troops killed
hundreds of desperate artisanal miners in 2008 so as to
evict them from the Marange fields they had farmed
for generations [Maguwu, 2013].) South Africa’s lobby
includes a highly-vocal, well-connected militarist
intelligentsia, some of whom are consultants to the
local Military Industrial Complex—though this conflict
of interest is rarely disclosed in public commentary.
Many contemporary security operatives and
promoters of sub-imperial extractivism date to
apartheid-era service (and indeed many are male
with Afrikaner surnames, and served in the military
prior to 1994). In their analyses of the 2017–21 Cabo
Delgado war theatre, there was only occasional,
slight hesitation by sub-imperial-inclined think tanks,
journalists, and commentators when making the case
for armed intervention. Some were slightly
Volume 90 / 2022
more reserved, including the International Crisis
Group and a few other NGOs which requested both
military and humanitarian aid, suggesting the need
for more sophisticated relations with the armed
forces of ex-colonial (Portuguese and British) plus
other imperialist armed forces. Most of the vocal
commentariat, though, proved unable to grasp the
human costs of war, were uncritical of multinational
corporate arrangements with Mozambican elites,
exhibited no climate consciousness (either of cause
or effect) and were, finally, subtly Islamophobic.
These advocates of militarism were given an
opening in mid-2020 when South African foreign
minister Naledi Pandor reconfirmed Pretoria’s sub-
imperial agenda in no uncertain terms. Pandor
(2020: 12) testified to her parliament 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.
Notwithstanding her open call to fuse fossil-capital
dependency with military sub-imperialism, that
security strengthening wasn’t likely to happen
under conditions of austerity, as conditions
deteriorated over the subsequent seven months.
Indeed, SANDF’s capacity to purchase equipment
and sustain personnel fell much more rapidly as
a result of Treasury’s 2020–21 budget cuts, as well
as a surprise mid-2021 deployment when the army
had to police sites of unrest within KwaZulu-Natal
and Gauteng provinces during a week of rioting,
widespread looting, and police incompetence
(Africa Commission, 2021).
Nevertheless, the potential that South Africa would
benefit from Cabo Delgado gas allowed war-
drumming to thump ever more loudly throughout
the most influential local media in 2021, periodically
amplified by Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s
comments favouring import of Mozambican
gas (Omarjee, 2021). The beat emanated most
consistently from South Africa’s two main
metropolitan areas, home to the Pretoria-Midrand-
Johannesburg elite-regionalist intelligentsia
(foreign policy specialists, scholars, journalists, and
researchers), and the Stellenbosch/Saldanha-Cape
Town military-strategic zone (with Potchefstroom
an important Old School outlier).
This network represents South Africa’s version of
‘laptop bombardiers.’ That phrase emerged to capture
the spirit of mid-1990s U.S. intellectuals who advocated
carpet-bombing Serbia. It was coined by Simon
Jenkins in The Spectator but popularised most by Los
Angeles Times columnist Alexander Cockburn (1994).
The latter witnessed the debate about Yugoslavia’s
tragic dismembering becoming ‘one of the most
astonishing displays of high-minded warmongering
since the cream of Europe’s intelligentsia of the left
cheered their respective nations into the carnage of
World War I.’ The analogy stretches today to the squad
of reinvigorated sub-imperialist boosters operating
from the main South Af rican geopolitical ‘think tanks’
(i.e., places where people are paid to think, by the
people who control the tanks).
These analysts advance the argument made by
Pandor (2020), namely that if South Africa’s state
managers consider Mozambique’s Rovuma Basin
gas ‘of great interest’ for an ‘energy diversification
strategy,’ then the corresponding logic is, ‘security
agencies need to enhance their capacity.’ To that
end, the most prolific pro-military commentator
in Africa, Jane’s Defence Weekly correspondent
Helmut Heitman, made a similar nationalistic
energy-security case in 2021: it is ‘purely selfish self-
interest for us to try and stabilise at least our region’
with the SANDF intervention he favoured. This was in
part because of the insurgency’s potential to ‘place
at risk Cahora Bassa hydroelectric power station.
It places at risk the gas fields from which we now
draw gas. In fact if you look longer term, we need
the gas fields in Cabo Delgado as well, because the
gas fields we now use [i.e. Sasol’s offshore central
Mozambique, at Temane-Pande] are running down’
(SA Broadcasting Corporation, 2021).
To illustrate the upgraded security required for
transferring gas from Cabo Delgado, the proposed
African Renaissance Pipeline to Johannesburg was
greeted with enthusiasm in the mid-2010s, although
it became a pipe dream once the insurgency
began. To avoid shipping, truck and rail traffic when
exploiting the Pande gas fields starting in 2004, a
900km pipeline was built, crossing into South Africa
at Lebombo-Komatipoort. The route begins at the
Temane LNG facility (near Vilanculos) in the middle
of Mozambique and ends in Secunda, where gas is
squeezed into liquid petroleum at the single highest
greenhouse gas emissions point-source in the world.
Could an extension twice as long be built northwards
to Palma? Even without civil war prevailing,
maintenance of such pipelines is arduous, and as
Bloomberg reported in October 2020, on much more
secure South African terrain, ‘Transnet Pipelines has
had over 80 incidents of fuel theft this financial year
that involve tampering with infrastructure,’ mainly to
bunker stolen oil (Burkhardt, 2020).
Yet South Africa’s main opposition party militarist,
Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister for Defence
Kobus Marais, stressed precisely such direct
importation (i.e. by pipeline not ship) when speaking
to Cape Talk a few days after the Palma attack:
‘South Africa most certainly do have a direct
interest in what is happening in Cabo Del-
gado. There are South African mining com-
panies that is operating officially with all the
necessary authority in that area. It is rich in
minerals and gemstones and then obvious-
ly the whole LNG industry. South Africa has
got major investments in terms of construc-
tion, providing construction material, main-
tenance, etc there. Also remember we are
already getting LNG from Mozambique to
Sasol. And then there is the possibility of get-
ting something like that directly to Gauteng
from Cabo Delgado. So we have to become
involved.’ (Marais, 2021a)
Moreover, into a vacuum like Mozambique’s war
zone, there may wander other self-interested
elements from the West whose oil firms are at risk.
Hence for Pretoria to not intervene, Marais (2021b)
continued, would be ‘unsustainable, unaffordable,
and indefensible from a foreign policy perspective.
Although the USA, France and Portugal all currently
have a presence, it is not ideal for the region not to
be part of any stabilisation force.’ In the same spirit,
Neethling (2021b) advocated ‘South African military
support to stabilise Cabo Delgado and restore law
and order in the short term. Wider international
support might even be necessary,’ in part because
‘Sasol has invested heavily in gas exploration projects
since 2014.’ Francois Vreÿ (2021), Emeritus Professor of
Strategy at Stellenbosch University’s Saldanha-based
war college, was even more frank about multinational
corporate beneficiaries: ‘The impact spilled
offshore as gas companies placed extensive foreign
infrastructure development for the energy sector on
hold. Rebuilding the confidence needed for the gas
industry to resume activities is a major incentive to
get the insurgency under control.’
Suave Sub-Imperial Narratives
It is easy to follow the logic of Stratfor’s (2009) vulgar-
Marxist argument here, namely that the SANDF has
to become involved in the blood methane struggle—
ideally in explicit alliance with the West—so as to
back up South African capitalists’ investments. If
Marx’s simple dictum that the state is essentially
the ‘executive committee of the bourgeoisie’ really
does apply, then some of these commentators seem
entirely comfortable with crude, profiteering self-
interest as justification for such blatant sub-imperial
intervention. However, there are much more suave
ways of selling South African involvement in this
conflict, which is where the laptop-bombardier
intelligentsia becomes important.
From the same generation (and ethnicity), Armed
Conflict Location & Event Data Project analyst Jasmine
Opperman was hopeful the imperial-sub-imperial
combination might actually work: ‘a foreign/regional
joined force with a streamlined command and control
can shift the momentum away from the insurgents...
It is an insurgency that cannot be viewed, and must
not be regarded and underplayed, as not only a risk to
Mozambique but also the region” (Essau, 2021). That
particular part of the narrative—that the insurgency
Yet genuine concern about Islamic-terror
contagion is just as easily a narrative
to not introduce troops into northern
Mozambique, so as not to kick the hornet’s
nest and potentially be met with a backlash
elsewhere. As Opperman (2021) put it: ‘The
problem we are sitting with is the Islamic
State threat directed at South Africa if they
should get involved in Cabo Delgado, and
that threat must be taken seriously. We
know we have Islamic State disciple figu es
on home soil’ (le Roux, 2021).
Volume 90 / 2022
will spread, not just into Tanzania where conditions
are supposedly ripe, but perhaps to Johannesburg-
Pretoria, to Cape Town and to Durban (where in each
there are large Muslim populations)—could be based
upon paranoia or justified fear. It could also be a ruse
to promote militarism.
Yet genuine concern about Islamic-terror contagion
is just as easily a narrative to not introduce troops
into northern Mozambique, so as not to kick the
hornet’s nest and potentially be met with a backlash
elsewhere. As Opperman (2021) put it: ‘The problem
we are sitting with is the Islamic State threat directed
at South Africa if they should get involved in Cabo
Delgado, and that threat must be taken seriously. We
know we have Islamic State disciple figures on home
soil’ (le Roux, 2021).
Thus, the second component of the pro-intervention
narrative is that if SADC doesn’t step in, then the U.S.
or other foreign interests will. Opperman referred
to the new administration of Joe Biden: ‘There are
clear foreign agendas at play… This is old wine in an
old bottle with a new label… The US is merely going
to aggravate the situation’ (le Roux, 2021). Would
the U.S. military be able to defeat Al-Shabab? To
prosecute a bush war against insurgents of this
sort will be difficult, as the fighters are apparently
able to blend in and out of the dense Cabo Delgado
terrain. After more than four years of fighting there
were only a few prisoners taken, with no apparent
Mozambique army successes in capturing leaders
or permanently retaking guerrilla bases, though
the main coastal town was wrested back from the
militants’ control by mid-2021.
Given the Mozambican army’s appalling record,
a careful but nevertheless militaristic approach
was advocated by the International Crisis Group,
a network established in 1995 by U.S. and British
diplomats which ‘aspires to be the preeminent
organisation providing independent analysis and
advice on how to prevent, resolve or better manage
deadly conflict.’ It was established by Finnish and
Australian sub-imperial leaders Martti Ahtisaari and
Gareth Evans after both played significant roles in the
South African and Namibian elite transitions from
apartheid to neoliberal democracy. With access to
well-placed (always confidential) imperialist sources
of information, its analysts remarked with confidence:
‘To tame the insurrection, Maputo needs
to use force, with bespoke assistance from
outside partners, and to carefully address
underlying grievances... Mozambique’s West-
ern partners say they want to help but their
diplomats say their capitals will be reluctant
to supply materiel to the military without
the institution going through significant
training and reforms... A heavy deployment
of regional troops unfamiliar with the local
terrain may not be necessary. Instead, Ma-
puto should welcome bespoke African and
international assistance to support its own
special forces, who are receiving training
primarily from a few Western partners. It
should task these special forces to spearhead
restricted military operations to contain and
then degrade Al-Shabab.’ (International Crisis
Group, 2021)
Indeed, another narrative common to centrist
research agencies and NGOs acknowledges that
without addressing socio-economic grievances,
the necessary military suppression of Al-Shabab
will not resolve the local tensions. Diverse sources
of regional power and humanitarian aid will be
required, according to SA Institute for Security Studies
commentators Jakkie Cilliers, Liesl Louw-Vaudran,
Timothy Walker, Willem Els, and Martin Ewi (2021).
For Opperman: ‘We don’t have a choice. We cannot
let the ISIS or an international terror group direct our
foreign policy, but we also have to apply caution here.
We cannot simply deploy soldiers. That will not solve
the problem’ (le Roux, 2021).
Setting pro-intervention advocacy aside, by mid-
2021 several genuine dangers associated with further
armed incursions into Cabo Delgado were obvious.
One was failing to incorporate the disgust that local
residents had for the faraway Maputo government,
especially the army and also mercenary allies. The
latter include Russia’s Wagner Group, and South
Africa’s Dyck Advisory Group and Paramount Group.
The two former mercenary companies had committed
countless, blatant atrocities (Sauer, 2019; Hanlon, 2021;
The Economist, 2020). In turn, a related danger was an
inappropriate delegitimization of the insurgents, by
underestimating the degree to which socio-economic
desperation and anger created genuine roots for their
base-building. A third obvious danger was completely
ignoring the role of the climate crisis in exacerbating
both the roles of victims (cyclone and drought victims)
and villains (Big Oil) in Cabo Delgado.
The pro-intervention analysts themselves are thus
guilty (in varying degrees) of denialism, defined
as taking three forms by Stanley Cohen (2001):
whether literal (e.g. in disputing the local factors, thus
assuming that regional and Western troops can solve
the problem as it were merely surgical ‘degrading’ the
insurgent enemy); interpretive (e.g. in downplaying
the socio-economic and ecological factors); and
implicatory (failing to acknowledge the need to leave
the fossil fuels unexploited and pay reparations for
climate damage). However, the laptop bombardiers
were only as serious a problem as there were real
forces on the ground to activate the threat. These
took the form of mercenaries, the SA army and other
countries’ troops, most immediately from Rwanda, as
well as other SADC countries and potential Western
powers, including the former Portuguese colonists.
But it is the militarist analysts’ faith in the SANDF that
merits more attention than they dare give.
South Africa’s Sub-Imperial Shame
Recall Stratfor’s (2009) view that an ‘imperative’ of
post-apartheid South Africa remained not only ‘the
free flow of labor and capital’ intra-regionally but also,
to enforce this, ‘a superior security capability able
to project into south-central Africa.’ The latter role,
however, has long given both South African militarists
and anti-militarists great cause for concern, in part
due to the SANDF’s illegitimacy before 1994 and to
its uneven competence since. There was no question
that under apartheid, superior security capability
permitted the SA military to conduct unrivalled
regional state-terrorism during the 1970s–80s. That
ended, though, with the 1987–88 Battle of Cuito
Cuanavale in Angola, during which Cuban air support
to the Angolan army was decisive and more than a
hundred white soldiers returned to South Africa in
body bags.
One immediate result was the realisation that army
supply lines were too stretched both logistically
and psychologically, and not only did the military
struggle that Pretoria had supported since the mid-
1970s fail miserably (the guerrilla movement Unita
killed a million Angolans, but could not win power).
In between southern Angola and the South African
border was Pretoria’s colony of South West Africa—
whose liberation movement had by 1989 gained
enough international support that the SA Defence
Force (SADF) was forced to retreat, and the country
won its freedom. The SADF’s periodic incursions into
the region also included state terror attacks against
democracy proponents who were civilian members of
the African National Congress, in Lesotho, Botswana,
Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. The SADF’s role in
Mozambique included support for the Renamo right-
wing movement which like Unita in Angola, is accused
of killing an estimated million civilians with nothing to
show for it aside from post-1992 oppositional status.
The apartheid regime’s army was also brutal when
working inside South Africa—in the Black townships
and rural Bantustans alike—but, after the late
1980s, also increasingly ineffectual in repressing the
democratic mass movement. In the period from the
1976 Soweto youth rebellion, when soldiers became
a constant presence in townships, to early-1990s
‘Third Force’ activity, the SADF purposively created
mayhem in many areas of South Africa. Especially
in its collaboration with the South African Police
and the Inkatha Zulu-nationalist movement, tens
of thousands of deaths of Black activists (and a few
whites) were attributed to state terror, including
14,000 from 1990–94 alone (Stott, 2002: 36).
The post-apartheid era witnessed six major
engagements by the SANDF, which are worth briefly
revisiting to assess whether by far the largest military
force in the region is capable of carrying out a long-
term pacification of the Cabo Delgado insurgency:
Lesotho in 1998; Burundi in 2001–09; Sudan since
2004; the Central African Republic in 2013; the eastern
Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2013; and
internal deployment of troops within South Africa
both to fight Western Cape gangs and impose
Covid-19 lockdown regulations.
In Lesotho, a September 1998 SANDF counter-
coup mission initially to the Katse Dam wall—
which was meant to halt threatened (but highly
unlikely) destruction of the Lesotho Highlands
Water Project (supplying Gauteng Province) by
mutinying Lesotho Defence Force soldiers—led to
the deaths of over 50 of the latter alongside nine
SANDF troops (out of 600 deployed) and 40
Volume 90 / 2022
civilians (Ka’Nkosi, 1998). The series of fights was
described by South African political scientist Philip
Frankel (2000) as a ‘debacle’ that fulfilled ‘some
of the worst predictions of brutality, ill-discipline
and poor leadership’ in the new democratic army
(though Neethling [1999] defended it).
The Burundi mission was successful within the
narrow terms of a 2001–09 mandate—in which
750 SANDF troops were deployed to help the local
army halt a 1993–2005 civil war, and specifically to
protect 150 formerly exiled Hutu politicians—but
it was not a lasting peace. Shortly after SANDF left,
dissatisfaction over the 2010 and 2015 elections
led to an attempted coup and widespread civil
society protest that continues into the 2020s.
In Sudan, SANDF’s deployment—through the
UN-African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur—
left hundreds of troops vulnerable in mid-2015
to an (alleged) near-hostage situation. This was
due to Sudanese soldiers’ anger at their leader
Omar Al-Bashir’s potential arrest while visiting
Johannesburg for an African Union conference,
although that was resolved thanks to Al-Bashir’s
escape before the court-ordered arrest was
implemented. He skipped out of South Africa
surreptitiously—with president Jacob Zuma’s
open condonation—after an arrest warrant was
issued thanks to a local legal NGO’s desire to see the
International Criminal Court’s mandate followed,
which in turn led Zuma to begin withdrawal from
the ICC. On the one hand, Sudanese peace
activists considered SANDF’s troop withdrawal
in 2016 to be dangerously premature but on the
other, as Heitman remarked, ‘the mission has
been largely futile as a result of its forces being
matched if not overmatched by the weaponry
available to the various militias’ (Fabricius, 2016).
A small residual team was left behind, but in
2019 it suffered the temporary loss of two of
their vehicles in a hijacking, although they were
returned, albeit at the expense of some local
fatalities (Martin, 2019).
In the Central African Republic capital Bangui,
in March 2013, the deployment of 220 SANDF
troops was even more chaotic than in Lesotho,
because both Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Zuma
had agreed to defend the dictator Francois
Bozizé following a 2006 deal for diamond
market monopoly control and other commercial
opportunities shared with the African National
Congress’ investment arm Chancellor House
(AmaBhungane, 2013). But 15 SANDF fatalities
resulted when Bozizé was overthrown by the
rebel Séléka movement that month, leaving
bitter troops to tell Sunday Times reporters: ‘Our
men were deployed to various parts of the city,
protecting belongings of South Africans. They
were the first to be attacked… outside the different
buildings – the ones which belong to businesses
in Jo’burg’ (Hosken and Mahlangu, 2013).
In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
in 2013 (shortly after the Battle of Bangui), Zuma
renewed SANDF’s 1,300-strong role in the UN
peace-keeping mission – including deployment at
Bunia, within 50km of a Lake Albert oil concession
worth $10 billion that his nephew Khulubuse
Zuma very dubiously acquired in 2010 from
DRC president Joseph Kabila Jr. This continual
redeployment has occurred notwithstanding
allegations of South African troops’ abuse of
local residents, and indeed further scandals
soon followed including drunken (and sexual)
rampages, and one case in which SANDF troops
ignored a 2016 massacre by warlords just a
kilometre from their base (Allison, 2016). Along
with other grievances, this led to intense youth
protests against the UN mission in 2021, at least
one of which resulted in civilian fatalities.
Finally, the internal South African deployments
of SANDF troops began in 2019 in Mitchells Plain
and other Cape Town working-class townships
in order to subdue gang war, and by April 2020
were amplified into enforcement of one of the
world’s most stringent economic lockdowns. Nearly
80,000 troops (including reserve forces) served at
peak from May–September, leading to continual
controversies over abuse. The main newspaper
in Johannesburg editorialised: ‘Many stories
of brutality by SANDF members are doing the
rounds among communities and on social media.
The military had been found to be enforcing the
Covid-19 lockdown at the expense of undermining
human rights, personal dignity and common sense.
A solution is needed, urgently, to deal with the
mindset of the men and women in the military’
(The Star, 2021). Then in mid-July 2021, the SANDF
was suddenly called into service to quell rioting in
two provinces, which led to more than 330 deaths
and $5 billion in damages over four days. These
were not the usual South African service delivery
protests, which in some periods of dissent occur
thousands of times annually, nor instances of
progressive advocacy pressure by unions or social
movements. They were chaotic revolts, with no
logic aside from consumerist looting, although
the initial spark had a Zulu-ethnicist flavour in
support of jailed former president Zuma. The
SANDF deployment began with an initial 2,500
troops but these had so little visible presence
in Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Johannesburg,
Pretoria or two dozen other sites of rioting. The
force was suddenly boosted to 25,000. This left
reduced capacity to send the scheduled 1,500
troops to Mozambique at an anticipated cost of
nearly $70 million. However, an advance SANDF
team did deploy to Cabo Delgado on schedule in
late July 2021.
In many such settings, SANDF troops appeared not
only unwelcome but also unprepared, as several
otherwise pro-intervention commentators (not just
Heitman) grudgingly acknowledged. And this, then,
brings home the ultimate logic of pro-war advocacy:
restoring SANDF budgets.
Conclusion: SANDF-Restoration Rhetoric or Climate-
Reparations Responsibilities
The pro-war commentariat will not succeed because
material conditions do not favour a successful sub-
imperial outcome. These conditions are not likely
to change, because the regular ridicule SANDF has
received for incompetence was, to some extent,
because of persistent post-apartheid budget cuts,
and these will worsen in the 2020s due to extreme
neoliberal fiscal pressures greater than the sub-imperial
counter-pressures. SANDF’s operational problems
were exacerbated in 2021 by the Treasury’s renewed
austerity drive, in the wake of a substantial budget
deficit opening up due to the Covid-19 lockdown in
2020 (GDP was 6.4 percent lower than in 2019 and
tax revenues had dropped even more). In April 2021,
following a $1.04 billion budget cut over three years,
defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (2021)
complained to parliament: ‘Our defence capabilities
are under extreme stress. Our ability to equip and train
our force appropriately has become progressively more
difficult. The current threat manifestations require more
boots on the ground, which is contrary to the imposed
funding ceiling on personnel.’
According to Heitman:
‘the army bluntly doesn’t have enough infan-
try to handle the Mozambique deployment
plus the one in the Congo plus the border.
We don’t have the air lift to move troops
around quickly. We don’t have enough Roo-
ivalk attack helicopters. We don’t have the
naval assets to really secure the Mozambique
Channel as well as our own waters… We ha-
ven’t been spending money to maintain our
frigates. We haven’t like given them refits.
They’re starting to have problems. Things
are starting to break. There aren’t enough
spares. I think only one of the three sub-
marines is operational at the moment.’ (SA
Broadcasting Corporation, 2021)
As for SADC’s SAMIM force, Heitman predicted it
would be ‘laughably too small to do the job’ with ‘no
real reconnaissance capability, no tactical mobility.
It’s actually a joke in poor taste’ (SA Broadcasting
Corporation, 2021). After the first six months of
deployment, Heitman reconfirmed that SAMIM was
‘faffing around,’ not ‘achieving anything’, because it
remained ‘ludicrously weak and under-armed with
criminally inadequate air support’ (Hanlon, 2022).
Heitman’s agenda has always been to beef up military
spending (he is a defence industry consultant, having
served in the SA military during apartheid). So, the
critique above might be taken as akin to a boy crying
‘Wolf!’ with respect to SANDF’s capacity to mobilise
roughly 1,500 troops, of whom only a few hundred
were hunting the Islamic terrorists at any given time.
Still, the critique of SANDF’s incapacity does correspond
to what, since 2019, has been a popular trope: army
troops were given the derogatory nickname-meme
‘Mabena,’ after a soldier whose commanding officer
called him out (in what became a viral clip) for being
‘tall and lazy for nothing’ (TimesLive, 2019). Pretoria’s
head of international intelligence, Robert McBride,
amplified the bumbling-fighter impression in 2021
when four of his undercover security operatives from
Pretoria were captured by Mozambican counterparts,
and when confronted with the information by a
journalist, he ‘responded to City Press’ query with two
laughing emojis’ (Stone, 2021). The following week,
McBride was suspended because of the humiliation
Ramaphosa and State Security Minister Ayanda
Volume 90 / 2022
Dlodlo felt when meeting Nyusi and requesting him
to release the South African spies, in the course of
thorny negotiations then underway over SADC troop
deployments (Felix, 2021). However, it later transpired
that Dlodlo had approved the spies’ mission in writing
during the Palma attack in late March, reinforcing
Pretoria’s Keystone Cops image (Masondo, 2021).
Perhaps reflecting such weaknesses, SAMIM was
kept away from the two areas with gas infrastructure
(Palma and Mocimboa da Praia) from mid-2021 into
2022. Joe Hanlon (2022) observed that SANDF-led
regional fighters ‘failed to quell the insurgents. And
both Lesotho and South Africa are having financial
problems and may not be able to continue to pay for
troops and supplies.’
But all of this requires us to consider some
uncomfortable conclusions. Neethling (2021a)
provides one approach in The Thinker: ‘All in all, the
problems in Mozambique primarily relate to what
Matsinhe and Valoi describe as ‘four decades of half-
mast sovereignty’ in Mozambique, which is evident
from the fact that, since the country’s independence
in 1975, the central government in Maputo has lacked
a monopoly over the means of violence in its territory
and its long coastline.’ But when Neethling and fellow
laptop bombardiers advocate more violence—with
the Mozambique state better backed by sub-imperial
and imperial military forces—so as to solve the blood
methane war, they are fantasising.
In contrast, there is a distinctly different narrative
for progressive intellectuals to grapple with, which
concerns the way Global North economies (including
roughly the wealthiest 5% of South Africans) have
overconsumed fossil fuels and run up a vast ‘climate
debt’ in the process. One result is that in spite of so-far
negligible contributions to the catastrophe (i.e. trivial
per capita greenhouse gas emissions), Mozambique
was from 2000–19 the world’s fourth-most climate-
damaged country (behind only Puerto Rico, Myanmar,
and Haiti) (ReliefWeb, 2021). The unprecedented
cyclones, floods and droughts, especially in 2019, were
compensated only tokenistically by foreign aid.
The case for the North—including commentators in
the Pretoria-Midrand-Joburg-Potch-Stellenbosch-
Saldanha-Cape Town foreign policy intelligentsia—to
face up to their/our climate liabilities, simply cannot
be disputed. (Unless, that is, we are climate denialists
in the Donald Trump tradition, or hit-and-run-style
climate-debt denialists who refuse ‘polluter pays’
responsibilities.) This is especially obvious in relation
to the 2019 cyclones that were most damaging to
Mozambique (Mikulewicz and Jafry, 2019). Frequent-
flying academics and researchers have been especially
frightened of admitting that climate damage should
be part of our conferencing and lifestyle calculations.
If ‘build back better’—following the 2020–21 Covid-19
travel and in-person meetings pause—is to mean
anything, then it would be logical to begin identifying
how to repay Mozambicans for the vast damage,
and also encourage to no further harm. One route is
compensating that society for not extracting the Cabo
Delgado gas, and insisting on rapid demobilisation of
SAMIM and SANDF and the earliest possible exit by
Big Oil.
It may sound outlandish to leave such vast fossil
resources unexploited, but even the South African
government acknowledged this logic in mid-2021
when its Nationally Determined Contribution offer
demanded: ‘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…’ (Republic of South Africa, 2021: 28).
Of course, to expect the Pretoria government to act
consistently with such rhetoric, given its worsening
methane addiction and sub-imperial proclivities,
would be naïve. Instead, civil society advocates and
scholars must continue to arise from within civil
society with three interrelated demands: to stop
The pro-war commentariat will not
succeed because material conditions
do not favour a successful sub-
imperial outcome. These conditions
are not likely to change, because the
regular ridicule SANDF has received
for incompetence was, to some extent,
because of persistent post-apartheid
budget cuts, and these will worsen in
the 2020s due to extreme neoliberal
fiscal p essures greater than the sub-
imperial counter-pressures.
the war, to leave fossil fuels unexploited, and to use
compensatory funds to pay poor people in Northern
Mozambique (as an alternative to them picking up
arms with Islamic guerrillas).
Most recently, political-ecologist scholar-activists
Anabela Lemos (2022), Boaventura Monjane
(2021), Teresa Cunha and Isabel Casimiro (2021),
and Samantha Hargreaves and Lemos (2021) have
made these arguments, as have many within
the Alternactiva progressive activist network, the
União Nacional de Camponeses (UNAC) peasant
movements, the Friends of the Earth affiliate JA! (host
of the “Say No to Gas!” international campaign) and
the Centre for Living Earth’s Territórios em Conflicto.
Here in South Africa, solidarity activist groups which
in 2021 commented along the same lines include
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. In Lisbon, solidarity
protests were organised by Climaximo, 2degrees
artivism, and the youth movement’s Greve Climática
Estudantil. In London, Friends of the Earth UK
offered support (Bond, 2022).
Linking these groups to South Africans who can
expand their struggles against LNG exploration
in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans is now critical.
Rising anti-gas sentiments in 2021–22 were
sufficient to block South Africa’s two main offshore
seismic-blasting explorations (by Shell, Total and
local ally Johnny Copelyn). In those cases, like
Mozambique, the South African state’s objective
has been to ensure foreign corporations—especially
those from Johannesburg operating regionally—
could engage in extractivist profiteering, in the
process impoverishing local residents through
displacement, pollution, and depletion of non-
renewable resources. As refugees from such conflict
spill back into South Africa (such as Congolese
immigrants since the early 2000s), working-class
xenophobia surges. There is little or no South
African comprehension of the terror felt by those
fleeing from such resource wars.
Perhaps it is unfair and incorrect to paint all the
laptop bombardiers mentioned in this article with
the same brush, including accusations about their
self-destructive climate denialism, their desires for
militarist alliance-making between Pretoria and
the vicious, corrupt Maputo regime, their apparent
nostalgia for cross-border war-making, and—for
many, not all—their absurd faith in a declining sub-
imperial army that they believe simply needs more
funding. Perhaps these scholars will start considering
the realities discussed here and not avoid them—
and perhaps even take a progressive not utterly
reactionary point of view. If not, if they stay the course,
the pro-military lobbyists court the risk of extreme
self-harm in Mozambique, and further harm to our
own society and our species’ potential for survival, too.
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... Supply of the LNG in the coming years could be arranged through offshore South African, Mozambican or Namibian sources, given that there are potentially two hundred billion oil-barrel-equivalents available, largely from Cabo Delgado's Rovuma fields. To be sure, resistance has risen, not only to 'Blood Methane' extraction opposed by the Cabo Delgado guerrilla group Al-Shabaab (Bond 2022a), butas discussed belowin the form of widespread protests and court challenges to South African offshore gas exploration. This paper considers environmental-economic and climate-justice aspects of that resistance, specifically whether cost-benefit analyses improve our understanding of resource utilisation when it comes to the potential development of a major new energy source, methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). ...
... And ten, when it came to glaring hypocrisy, the West was not alone, for isn't Pretoria's sub-imperial fossil ambition increasingly lethal, when deploying 1200 SA National Defence Force troops to northern Mozambique to defend Paris-based TotalEnergies, Houston-based ExxonMobil and other multinationals drilling for 125 trillion cubic feet of gas, in a war zone that by 2022 had displaced a million people and killed several thousand, just as climate-fueled cyclones on the coast become more intense (Bond 2022c, Justiça Ambiental 2022? If in coming years, as Eskom injects gas in the form of Mozambique's "Blood-Methane" LNG -or Total's Brulpadda/Luiperd methane from offshore South Africa -into the national grid, won't that infrastructure become a stranded asset, as even the National Business Initiative warns (Vlavianos 2020)? ...
The failure of elites negotiating global public goods – e.g., ending COVID -19 “vaccine apartheid,” forging geopolitical stability, reducing inequality, regulating international financial flows, and avoiding world recession – is nowhere more dangerous than the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s refusal to cut greenhouse gas emissions deeply and fairly. “Climate Justice” principles are ignored, so divisions grow between what ruling elites consider possible, and what activists demand. This is evident in a South Africa suffering among the world’s highest emissions levels, extreme weather events, the worst inequality, and a neoliberal, carbon-addicted corporate power bloc determining most of the policy terrain. But activists are forcefully resisting.
The Cabo Delgado province in the northernmost portion of the long Mozambican seaboard is now home to Africa’s three largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects, and these projects have attracted many of the world’s major multinational energy companies, accompanied by massive LNG investments. There can be little doubt that the discovery of rich gas reserves is a potential game changer for the Mozambican economy and development agenda. It is potentially an opportunity for the rapid advancement of a country that currently ranks close to the bottom of the United Nation’s Human Development Index. However, despite the billions in investments from major multinational energy companies, the people of Cabo Delgado are yet to see the material benefit from these projects. One of the biggest risks to investors in the LNG industry is the many unknowns pertaining to the threat posed by the militant Islamic movement, Ansar al-Sunna, which has especially been active since 2017 in the Cabo Delgado province. In view of this, this article assesses Mozambique’s LNG industry and the political risks associated with the insurgent movement’s intention to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Cabo Delgado area.
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