Extraction, industry and finance: implications for South African sustainability
Wednesday September 27th, 4:00 pm – 5:15 pm
Sustainability Seminar hosted by the Sustainability Research Institute:
Speaker: Prof Samantha Ashman, Director of UJ-IDEP MPhil in Industrial Policy, and Co-ordinator of the Industrial Development and Policy Research Cluster
Location: University of Leeds School of Earth and Environment L8 seminar rooms
(Maths/Earth and Environment Building)
South Africa’s system of accumulation has historically been skewed towards a narrow set of capital intensive sectors concentrated on mining and energy, with strong linkages between each other and weak linkages with the rest of the economy. Three state owned enterprises in electricity (ESKOM), iron and steel (ISCOR) and liquid fuel from coal (SASOL) have played a central role in this, with the latter two being privatized in the 1980s and 1970s respectively. Since the defeat of apartheid and the introduction of democracy in 1994, the government of the African National Congress has made a number of strategic choices which have led to the increasing financialization of the economy and de-industrialization, with growing crises of poverty, unemployment and inequality being amongst the results. A central feature of this changing system of accumulation has been its carbon intensity, and its reliance upon abundant low cost coal. Over 90% of South Africa’s electricity production remains coal-fired, and coal has been in addition a commodity for export, and the critical input for SASOL’s liquid fuel programme. Whilst clearly unsustainable, South Africa demonstrates how there are many challenges in managing a low-carbon transition. Understanding the political economy of the country and vested interests, both national and international, remains critical.
Sam Ashman is Professor in the Department of Economics and Econometrics at the University of Johannesburg. She is the director of a master’s programme in Industrial Policy run jointly with IDEP, the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning, which is based in Senegal and is part of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Her research interests include financialisation and its impact on economic development and employment, industrial policy in both South Africa and Africa as a whole, and South Africa’s evolving political economy.