Issued by: Masifundise Development Trust and Pleine Mer

Date: 18 November 2022

Subject: South African and French smalls-scale fishers urge TotalEnergies to give up on Oil and gas exploitation off the coast of South Africa

On 5 September 2022, TotalEnergies lodged a production license for Block 11B/12B off the south coast of South Africa. Despite clear rejection from small-scale fishers, coastal communities continue to be inundated with oil and gas exploration applications that threaten the health of the marine environment. The South African government through the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) has made small-scale fishing communities vulnerable to offshore exploration of oil and gas. 

TotalEnergies is a French multinational company, known for oil and gas exploitation, billions of profits, and a few big environmental scandals. As explained by Charles Braine, president of Pleine Mer: “In France Total is well known for a huge black spill caused by the sinking of the oil tanker L’ERIKA. This boat was chartered by TotalEnergies, and sunk on the 12th of December 1999, off the coast of Brittany. More than 400 km of coast were impacted, by tens of thousands of tons of petrol. I was working as a volunteer to support coastal clean-up operations, which lasted for months and only ended at the end of summer 2000. For the inhabitants of the region, the small-scale fisher people, the oyster farmers, it was a real disaster. TotalEnergies was found guilty of maritime pollution and had to pay 171 million euros in damages to the civil parties and 13 million euros for ecological damage.[1]

In Africa, Total is known for its big investment in oil and gas exploitation, and its neo-colonial practices. The Niger delta is one of the examples illustrating how multinationals like TotalEnergies made billions while destroying the livelihoods of local small-scale fishing communities[2]. On the 1st of February 2022, in Kampala, Uganda, Total and its partners announced their “final investment decision” (FID) for the Tilenga and EACOP projects in Uganda and Tanzania. These projects are extremely controversial because of the human rights violations – linked to the expropriation of more than 100,000 people – that they are already causing, and the unacceptable risks to the environment and the climate that they present.[3]

Oil and gas developments destroy the environment, and threaten local communities. This attempt by DMRE to present oil and gas exploration as a solution to South Africa’s energy crisis is deeply concerning. This aggressive movement towards fossil fuels and non-renewable energy will lead to the acceleration of Climate Change, and the unconscionable loss of small-scale fishers’ livelihoods. South Africa’s advancement of the blue economy through Operation Phakisa and the Oceans Economy Master Plan, undermines climate justice, the just energy transition, as well as the livelihoods and rights of small-scale fishing communities who rely on the ocean and the ocean resources for food and income.

 As explained by Deon Warnick, small-scale fisher from Langebaan, South Africa: “Oil and gas developments are destroying our seas. All my years, I’ve been catching fishing, it is my livelihood. During my school days, I used to come from school and go straight to sea. They are going to completely destroy our livelihoods and natural marine resources if they continue to allow oil and gas exploration on our coast. Our children must go to school, and there must be food on the table, I am not satisfied.”

Sibongiseni Gwebani, Media and Communication officer at Masifundise, adds “Fishing communities have fought for recognition and fishing rights for decades only to witness the sale of their natural resources to foreign multinationals. Granting small-scale fishing communities fishing rights while allowing extractive activities such as oil and gas exploitation is counterintuitive. These activities threaten the livelihoods of small-scale fishers and encroach on their traditional fishing areas.  The ocean space is being carved up and commodified at the detriment of small-scale fishers: the project of TotalEnergies is a form of Ocean Grabbing.”

South African fishing communities would be strongly impacted if this project happens. Moreover, this would create a precedent for more exploitation in deep sea areas: this is not only a struggle of south African small-scale fishers but a struggle for the rights of coastal communities in the world. As stated by Thibault Josse, director of Pleine Mer “As a French environmental   organization defending the rights of small-scale fishers, we are in complete solidarity with our comrades from Masifundise and with south African small-scale fishers. Whether in France, Nigeria, Uganda or South Africa, oil and gas exploitation is ecologically nonsensical, it threatens the marine environment and the coastal communities who depend on it. Our colleagues from Bloom and The Green Connection recently launched a joint campaign against this project[4], and we hope our common struggle will force TotalEnergies to give up on its activities in South Africa”

For media enquiries contact :

Masifundise : Sibongiseni Gwebani – +2782 382 9259

Pleine Mer : Thibault Josse – + 33 6 29 10 47 76 –







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