THE African National Congress in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, where the party’s support dropped below 50% in the May election, is pinning its turnaround plan on the long-delayed $10bn Project Mthombo oil refinery development.
The fall in the national election, while in line with a trend — it follows a drop to 50% in 2011 from 63% in 2006 — has forced the party to seek ways of demonstrating its commitment to its support base’s needs.
It held a three-day meeting last week to discuss ways of doing this.
Among the outcomes of that meeting was to “politically champion” the oil refinery, and to improve the provision of services to residents and head off protests by establishing a petition committee.
The party’s loss has emboldened its opponents — chiefly the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters — to try and take control of the biggest municipality in the Eastern Cape in the local government elections in 2016.
The ANC’s Nelson Mandela Bay secretary, Zandisile Qupe, said it had set itself a target of winning 60% of the vote in 2016. He said instability in the municipality in the past had affected its ability to respond to complaints, which had contributed to the drop in electoral support.
He said there was now general agreement that stability had been achieved under mayor Ben Fihla, who arrived in March last year, and city manager Mpilo Mbambisa.
They had not clashed in a year. Mr Fihla had repeatedly clashed with the former city manager, Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela, who resigned after five months in office.
Mr Qupe said Project Mthombo “has been talked about for a long time” and the regional ANC wanted to demonstrate that it had the appetite for the project.
Construction on the refinery — which will have capacity of 300,000-400,000 barrels a day — at the Coega industrial development zone was meant to start in 2012.
It could create up to 40,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Mthombo’s critics say it cannot be justified because critical supporting infrastructure is not in place.
This includes pipelines to transport fuel to inland users. There are also South Africa’s economic problems, including low growth — the World Bank recently cut South Africa’s growth forecast for the year to 2% from 2.7% — and higher borrowing costs, after South Africa’s credit rating was downgraded last week.
The Department of Energy on Monday referred queries about Project Mthombo to PetroSA, which was not available for comment.
However, it is understood to be the subject of an “extended feasibility study”, with industry insiders sceptical about its prospects.
Philip Lloyd, of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Energy Institute, said the problem was it was in “the wrong place” and a pipeline to Gauteng could cost R40bn. “It is so expensive. We do not have that kind of money lying around,” he said.
Roger Diamond, research director at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil in South Africa, said growing global demand for alternative energy sources could make Project Mthombo “a poor investment”.