||Over the past decade, the South African government has begun shovelling what could be South Africa’s largest-ever industrial subsidies – probably in excess of R10 billion - into the Coega industrial zone complex and port, located about 20 kilometres from Port Elizabeth within the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM) area.
Government proponents say Coega represents sound industrial and development policy, but critics consider the project a “corporate welfare” giveaway replete with socially insensitive and eco-destructive features, especially noticeable as renewed attention is being given to climate change.
In his end-of-year 2006 e-mail message, President Thabo Mbeki highlighted Coega as a prime example of “Milestones during the Age of Hope”:
... the leading aluminium company, Alcan, entered into an agreement about the supply of electricity that would make it possible for it to construct a huge aluminium smelter at the new Port of Ngqura/Coega. This was indeed another important piece of good news during 2006, given the sustained campaign that some in our country had conducted to present the new Port of Ngqura/Coega as the outstanding symbol of the failure and folly of our democratic government, led by our movement!
Coega, if not the outstanding symbol, is indeed one of several excellent examples of post-apartheid failure and folly. In addition to a variety of other white elephant projects, we have seen ineffectual neoliberal macroeconomics, micro-neoliberal development disasters, rising unemployment and inequality, an AIDS policy described by many experts as ‘genocidal’, worsened environmental degradation, unprecedented debt-financed consumer materialism, widespread political corruption, real estate and stock market speculation, alliances with imperial powers (e.g. arms sales to the invaders of Iraq), arms sales to repressive regimes, failed multilateral trade and financial reforms, aspirant sub-imperialism (through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development), the government’s stifling of democracy in Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Burma, and rising state repression at home.
The Coega development represents a nexus of crony capitalism and negative environmental/climatic effects. The enormous state subsidies flowing into the smelter and to other corporate beneficiaries would better be directed to meeting vast unmet social needs in the Eastern Cape.