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Helter skelter Coega ferro-manganese smelter February 9, 2007

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", Coega, rant, South Africa.

Oh joy of joys, my favourite industrial development zone, Coega (near Port Elizabeth) has secured yet another major investor.

Earlier this year I bemoaned the impact that the recently announced Alcan aluminium smelter at Coega will have. Now it’s a ferro-manganese smelter. Sorry, let me rephrase that, it’s a multi-billion rand ferro-manganese smelter!

Plans are to build

[…] a 1,5-million ton per annum manganese mine and sinter plant in the Kuruman area of the Northern Cape […] and a ferro-manganese alloy production facility in Coega.


[t]his project will almost certainly mean a speedy upgrade of the railway link between Coega and the Northern Cape.

Sounds great, hey!? Jobs, investment, infra-structure and “a women-led broad-based black empowerment company” (Kalahari Resources).

Take a closer look and things don’t look quite so rosy. For one, it turns out that occupational manganese exposure can be quite nasty:

Chronic exposure to manganese can result in symptoms similar to Parkinson’s Disease, a serious and progressive impairment or deterioration of nerve cells in the brain. Common characteristics of manganism, the chronic exposure to high levels of manganese, can include:

  • Slow movements
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Leg cramps
  • Poor balance
  • Rigidity
  • Walking problems

And it’s not even like we have no experience with these sorts of health risks in South Africa. On Wednesday, Tony Carnie reported in The Mercury that

[t]he labour department is investigating the death of a foreman and about 20 suspected cases of manganese metal poisoning among factory workers in Cato Ridge, north of Durban.

The investigation follows the death of 49-year-old father of three Freddy Wright, and the discovery of least five cases of a highly debilitating brain and nerve system illness among staff at the Assmang ferromanganese smelter.


Occupational health and injury attorney Richard Spoor believes the manganese poisoning cases discovered so far may be the tip of an iceberg of illnesses […]

Great, lets have more of that. I did mention the jobs and the multi-billion rand investment, didn’t I.

[Why do the media report on related issues as though there is no connection? Here’s another recent example.]

When I look at Coega (and Richards Bay and Saldanha Bay and Mozal…), what I see are coastal draining points connected to the inland via sophisticated infra-structure from which valuable resources are extracted and injected into the world-wide corporate matrix.

From the land to the multi-national companies. From “the people” to the multi-millionaire “entrepreneurs”.

It’s called globalisation. It used to be called colonialism.



1. Gudrun, - February 10, 2007

It appears there is an urgent need to “globalize” public opinion! In Texas (USA, imagine) citizens are bemoaning the fact that some of their toll roads will be owned and controlled by ‘foreign investors’ – in that case Australian! In Iceland, people are worried about Alcan. Here in my province, people are slowly waking up to the realization that the production and distribution of electric power, which used to be entirely publicly owned, is being sold off to private interests and multinational companies. Alcan is in there – though it might be argued that it is a Canadian multinational…!
The numbers of examples around the world are increasing exponentially. I hope that the public outcry about the theft of public resources and degradation of the environment and people’s health is not going to be too late.
Vancouver (Canada)

2. Tanja Price - March 19, 2007

Please do me a favour and post something on this to the Herald newspaper at heraldletters@johnnicec.co.za. There seems to be some momentum going at the moment after my letter was printed, and I have in fact been contacted by someone doing research for a television programm on the subject of Coega. The environmental reporter in the Herald is going to do some more articles on the whole issue of Eskom supplying cheap electricity to Alcan etc.

The more letters are sent to the Herald the better. Thanks. Tanja

3. Andreas - March 19, 2007

Ok, now that you’ve given me the email address for letters to the Herald I’ve got no more excuses, right! I’ll definitely put my thoughts about Coega into a letter to them in the next few days.


4. Andreas - March 19, 2007

I just sent a letter to the Herald about some of my concerns about Coega. I’ve cut and pasted the text below. If and when anyone sees this appear in the Herald, please let me know.

Dear Editor

As a recent holiday visitor to the beautiful Eastern Cape, I feel compelled to register my deep concern about happenings at the Coega Industrial Development Zone near Port Elizabeth.

I am particularly worried about the construction of an aluminium smelter, a ferro-manganese smelter and possibly an oil refinery at Coega.

The considerable negative environmental and human health effects of oil refineries has is well documented from locations around the world, including Durban and Cape Town.

Occupational exposure to manganese can lead to an illness with symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. On February 7 of this year, The Mercury newspaper reported that “the labour department is investigating the death of a foreman and about 20 suspected cases of manganese metal poisoning” among employees of the Assmang ferro-manganese smelter in Cato Ridge north of Durban.

Aluminium smelters also have significant health and environmental impacts. Smelting aluminium happens to be the most energy-intensive industrial process known to humans. Considering the greenhouse gas emissions that will result from the electricity that needs to be generated to run these new mega-factories at Coega and their contribution to global warming and climate change, as well as Eskom’s inability to supply South Africa with reliable electricity, these new developments seem particularly ill advised.

I would like to encourage people in the Eastern Cape, and especially those living in the Port Elizabeth area, to inform themselves about these dirty and dangerous factories that are going to be built in their backyards. I have a feeling that most of them will not like what they find out.

There are other ways to create jobs – ways that are sustainable and compatible with a healthy environment and healthy communities.

Best regards,
Andreas Späth
Claremont, Cape Town.

5. Anonymous - May 14, 2007

I have checked back in the Herald and can’t see the letter, Tanja, did you see if it was printed?


6. Tanja Price - May 26, 2007

Didn’t see the letter either – would encourage you to ask them, when exactly they are planning to put it in – I had to beg them at least twice as well, before I had any luck………………….Thanks for trying.

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