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Theory and Practice in Challenging Extractive-Oriented Infrastructure in South Africa

Research in Political Economy

ISBN: 978-1-78441-007-0, eISBN: 978-1-78441-006-3

Publication date: 29 October 2014


A long period of capitalist crisis has amplified uneven and combined development in most aspects of political economy and political ecology in most parts of the world, with a resulting increase in the eco-social metabolism of profit-seeking firms and their state supporters. This is especially with the revival of extraction-oriented corporations, especially fossil fuel firms, which remain the world’s most profitable. What opportunities arise for as multi-faceted a critique of “extractivism” as the conditions demand? With ongoing paralysis of United Nations climate negotiators, to illustrate, the most critical question for several decades to come is whether citizen activism can forestall further fossil fuel combustion. In many settings, the extractive industries are critical targets of climate activists, for example, where divestment of stocks is one strategy, or refusing access to land for mining is another. Invoking climate justice principles requires investigating the broader socio-ecological and economic costs and benefits of capital accumulation associated with fossil fuel use, through forceful questioning both by immediate victims and by all those concerned about GreenHouse Gas emissions. Their solidarity with each other is vital to nurture and to that end, the most powerful anti-corporate tactic developed so far, indeed beginning in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle, appears to be financial sanctions. The argumentation for invoking sanctions against the fossil fuel industry (and its enablers such as international shipping) is by itself insufficient. Also required is a solid activist tradition. There are, in 2014, two inter-related cases in which South African environmental justice activists have critiqued multi-billion dollar investments, and thus collided with the state, with two vast parastatal corporations and with their international financiers. Whether these collisions move beyond conflicting visions, and actually halt the fossil-intensive projects, is a matter that can only be worked out both through argumentation – for example, in the pages below – and through gaining the solidarity required to halt the financing of climate change.




This research was made possible only through the activist-sourced knowledge generated by repeated contestations against both Eskom and Transnet by tireless colleagues at the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, groundWork and the Centre for Civil Society. This chapter was presented to the Gyeongsang National University Institute for Social Science, supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2013S1A5B8A01055117).


Bond, P. (2014), "Theory and Practice in Challenging Extractive-Oriented Infrastructure in South Africa", Research in Political Economy (Research in Political Economy, Vol. 29), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 97-132.



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