South Africa Energy and Environment Facts

Natural resources and energy

South Africa has the world’s largest platinum reserves and is estimated to have half of the world’s gold, three-quarters of all manganese and more than two-thirds of all chromium. The country also has large deposits of vanadium and andalusite as well as diamonds, coal and uranium. Significant gas discoveries have been made and oil exploration is ongoing offshore.

In 2014, metals and minerals accounted for 60 percent of South Africa’s export revenues. Platinum is South Africa’s most important export product and in 2014 accounted for 9 percent of total exports. The country’s second most important export product is gold.

  • COUNTRYAAH: Major exports by South Africa with a full list of the top products exported by the country. Includes trade value in U.S. dollars and the percentage for each product category.

South Africa’s coal is cheap to mine and supplies electricity to the country, which is also exported. The electricity supply comes to 90 percent from coal-fired power plants. The remainder comes from a nuclear power plant, hydropower and to a lesser extent from solar and wind energy, which, however, is increasing in importance.

The share of households with electricity has increased from 50 to 85 percent since 1994, but the capacity of the power plants is not enough.

  • Abbreviationfinder: A popular acronym site in the world covering abbreviation for each country. For example, SF stands for South Africa. Visit itypeusa for more information about South Africa.

A planned investment in expanded nuclear power was put on ice in 2018 due to high costs. Instead, the government plans to reduce its dependence on coal through investments in wind power and natural gas.

South Africa is a dry country and the water shortage is expected to increase dramatically. Half of all water consumption already goes to irrigation of agriculture. The Vaal River is a water source for industry and is utilized to the maximum.

Some water is imported from a large water project in Lesotho. The project has been criticized by environmentalists who believe that the plants disturb the ecological balance.

Hazardous emissions and residues from the mining industry that are not taken care of also threaten the environment. Chemicals used in the mines precipitate into the soil and contaminate nearby waterways.

Other concerns are widespread air pollution in major cities and the threats posed by a growing population to the country’s unique flora and fauna. Soils were over-utilized and depleted, leading to soil degradation.


Energy use per person

2,715 kilograms of oil equivalent (2014)

Electricity consumption per person

4229 kWh, kWh (2014)

Carbon dioxide emissions in total

489 772 thousand tonnes (2014)

Carbon dioxide emissions per inhabitant

9.0 tonnes (2014)

The share of energy from renewable sources

17.2 percent (2015)



Radio and TV manager resigns

December 19

The chairman of the board of the state radio and television company SABC resigns. The company has for several months been shaken by accusations of censorship and waste. President Mbulaheni Maguvhe submits his resignation a few days after he was heavily employed in a parliamentary hearing. SABC, which has three TV channels and 20 radio channels, has been criticized for partial reporting from the local elections in August, when the company, for example, banned the display of violent demonstrations. The SABC has also stopped referring to newspaper articles that have been critical of the government and President Zuma. Several reporters have been dismissed or punished after criticizing the corporate editorial line.


The ANC continues to support Zuma

November 29th

After a “difficult debate”, the ruling party rejects the ANC’s executive committee a demand that President Zuma resign. At least four ministers had supported the requirement.

Rising unemployment

November 22

Unemployment in the third quarter of 2016 increases to 27.1 percent, which is the highest figure in 13 years.

Zuma is suspected of crime

November 2

The Anti-Corruption Authority directs criminal suspicions against President Zuma and calls on the Prosecutor’s Office to initiate a formal investigation. Above all, the suspicions are that Zuma should have been influenced by their ties to the Gupta family and, among other things, given them influence over appointments of ministers.


The charge against the finance minister is closed

October 31st

The Prosecutor General decides to close the fraud charges against Finance Minister Gordhan. He says he is convinced that Gordhan did not intentionally act unlawfully and that it would be very difficult to prove a crime.

Gordhan gets support

October 23

Jackson Mithembu, the ANC’s group leader in parliament, calls on the entire party leadership, including President Zuma, to step down. He justifies the claim with the party’s poor local elections in August, factional battles and, not least, the recent fraud charges against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Mithembu claims that the prosecution is politically based and raises questions about where the party is headed. In the past, Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa, among others, has expressed support for the finance minister. In a newspaper ad, some 80 executives for mostly listed South African companies also demand that the indictment against Gordhan be discontinued. They say that internal political settlements only further damage the country’s already slowing economy.

The opposition appeals against ICC decisions

October 24th

The opposition party DA appeals the government’s decision to leave the ICC to the Constitutional Court. The DA says it is against the country’s constitution to adopt such a decision and communicate it to the UN without first anchoring it to Parliament, which once ratified South Africa’s membership in the International Criminal Court.

South Africa leaves ICC

21 October

The Government of South Africa decides to suspend its membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC). The direct cause is the conflict with the ICC that erupted when South Africa in 2015 failed to arrest Sudan’s wanted President Omar al-Bashir when he attended an AU summit. According to the court’s rules, South Africa was obliged to arrest him and hand him over to the ICC. Justice Minister Michael Masutha also refers to the general view in Africa that the ICC is largely only prosecuting Africans. South Africa’s defection is seen as a major setback to the ICC’s credibility and is feared to attract more African countries to leave the court. Amnesty Internationalaccuses South Africa of “deceiving millions of victims of the very worst human rights violations”. According to Amnesty, the decision undermines the international judiciary. Human Rights Watch says that South Africa shows a “startling nonchalance for justice” despite long being regarded as a leader in human rights issues.

The EFF suits the Gupta brothers

October 16

The radical opposition party EFF is filing a lawsuit against the Gupta brothers as well as Duduzane Zuma, one of the president’s sons, and Mosebenzi Zwane, minister responsible for the country’s mineral resources. In the lawsuit, all are accused of corruption, theft, fraud, money laundering, organized crime and other financial crimes.

Zuma seeks to stop sensitive report

October 13

President Zuma goes to court to block a report on Gupta’s influence on the government. The three Gupta brothers who came to South Africa in the 1990s have built up an empire around mining and media and have developed close ties with President Zuma. According to allegations, the Gupta family has influenced the appointment of ministers and decisions regarding government contracts and companies (see also March 2016). The report is authored by Public Ombudsman Thuli Madonsela, who has previously worked in clinic with Zuma on the renovation of his private farmhouse (see March 2014). The report was to be presented on Madonsela’s last working day before her term expires, but at the last moment the court postponed the publication until November 1. The day before, Finance Minister Gordhan has provided a court with papers that are said to show that the Gupta family has been involved in “suspicious” transactions.

The Minister of Finance in court

October 11

A legal process is underway against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who is accused of creating an illegal tax monitoring unit when he was head of the country’s tax authority. He is also accused of defrauding the state of the equivalent of SEK 675,000 which one of his colleagues received as severance pay in 2010. Gordhan dismisses the allegations and believes that they were added to silence him. Gordhan, who in his office maintained a high profile against corruption, has many times come into conflict with people around Zuma about how the state’s funds should be used.

Students do not give up

October 11

An attempt to open Wits University in Johannesburg, which has been closed to and from during recent weeks’ student protests, is triggering new clashes between students and police.


Student protests are growing

September 29th

Student protests are spreading across the country and police are using rubber bullets against protesters in Johannesburg and Grahamstown.

Violent student protests

September 21

A demonstration at the Wits University in Johannesburg against increased tuition fees degenerates into violence when security guards on campus meet with students. The police intervene the following day and use shock grenades and tear gas to disperse the protesters. In Cape Town, Pretoria and Bloemfontein, demonstrations are also being held against the increased fees. The government has promised to compensate the poorest students for the increase, but the protesters want education to be free for everyone. Student demonstrations have become increasingly common in the past year.

Zuma makes himself guilt free

September 12

The Finance Ministry announces that President Zuma has paid the money he owes the state for redundant renovations at his country site (see June 2016). Zuma is said to have raised the money, close to 4.6 million, by taking out a loan on his home.


ANC is raging in elections

August 3rd

The scandals surrounding President Zuma and the country’s economic problems seem to leave an impression as South Africans go to the polls to elect local representatives. The ANC makes its worst choice since the party came to power 22 years ago. The ANC loses its majority in the big city of Johannesburg and gets to see itself from the largest opposition party DA in the capital Pretoria. The DA wins just over 43 percent of the vote compared to 41 percent for the ANC. The ruling party is also suffering a major setback in one of its strongest strongholds, the port city of Port Elisabeth. The local elections were the first for the opposition party EFF, which won just over 8 percent of the votes on average.


Criticism of SABC

July 1st

Protesters gather outside the country’s radio and television companies accused of angling their broadcasts in favor of the government ahead of the planned local elections in August. The company has banned elements that show violent protests against the government’s policies and is accused of preventing the opposition from advertising in the company’s channels. Journalists who have criticized the new editorial line must have been reprimanded and the company’s CEO has left his post in protest.


Zuma owes treasury millions

June 27

The Finance Ministry announces that President Zuma owes the state close to SEK 8 million, equivalent to SEK 4.6 million, which was used to renovate his private summer residence. The sum to be repaid according to a previous court ruling refers to measures that were not safety related, such as the construction of a swimming pool (see also March 2014 and March 2016).

The Zuma appeal is rejected

June 24th

The Pretoria Supreme Court rejects President Zuma’s attempt to have one of the court’s previous ruling tried. This applies to an April ruling that nearly 800 indictments against the president should be reopened (see April 2016).

Two dead in election-related violence

June 22

The metropolitan area is shaken by violent clashes between various political camps ahead of the local elections to be held in early August. The conflict concerns who is appointed as the ANC’s candidate for the mayor’s post in Pretoria. Two people are killed during the unrest and about 40 are arrested by police.


HD ruling on Zuma appealed

24th of May

The Prosecutor’s Office announces that it will request that the ruling of a judge in the Supreme Court be tried. The judge came in April concluded that the Prosecutor’s Office erred when in 2009 it filed nearly 800 indictments against President Zuma for corruption. Zuma also says he will request that the rash be tried.

New noise in Parliament

May 4th

Fighting breaks out in Parliament when around ten MPs from Malema’s party EFF try to prevent President Zuma from keeping his budget speech. The quarrel ends with summoned guards forcing MPs to leave the House. Almost two weeks later, the same thing happens again. The EFF says that the party no longer considers Zuma as the country’s president and that it is he who should be thrown out of parliament. According to the EFF, the same scene will be repeated every time Zuma tries to speak in Parliament.


Corruption charges against Zuma again

April 29

Pressure on President Zuma increases when the Pretoria High Court rejects a decision by the Prosecutor’s Office from 2009 when prosecutors chose to close nearly 800 indictments against Zuma for corruption in connection with a major arms deal. The judge calls the decision irrational and recommends that the charges be reinstated. The president’s administration points out in a comment that the charges against Zuma have been withdrawn but says the judge’s ruling should be analyzed.

ANC police reports Malema

April 25

The ANC starts a judicial process against opposition politician Julius Malema, who is accused of treason after he, in an interview, threatened to take up arms if the government continues to respond to peaceful protests by force.

Zuma avoids national law

April 5

The opposition’s proposal to put President Zuma before the national court is voted down by a large margin by ANC members in parliament.


Zuma hated by court

March 31st

The Constitutional Court announces that President Zuma has violated the country’s constitution when he failed to follow the recommendations of the public ombudsman who in March 2014 ruled that Zuma should repay some of the state funds used to renovate his private summer residence (see March 2014). The Ministry of Finance is required to decide within 60 days how much Zuma will repay and the president is then given 45 days to submit the sum. After the court ruling, Zuma becomes the subject of a wave of condemnation. Critical voices are also raised within the ANC, and Zuma says he will pay. The opposition is launching a process to bring Zuma to court.

New scandal pressures Zuma

March 16

President Zuma comes under increased pressure after the country’s deputy finance minister revealed that he was offered the job of finance minister by the Gupta finance family with close ties to the president. The news raises strong criticism within the ANC and the opposition says it will try to get the Gupta family prosecuted for corruption. After a three-day meeting, however, the ANC’s highest decision-making body backs Zuma and declares that the party has full confidence in the president.

Dry pest agriculture

Like other countries in southern Africa, South Africa has suffered a prolonged drought as a result of the El NiƱo weather phenomenon. According to data from the country’s statistical office, the agricultural sector has fallen by 16 percent in 2016, and the government calls the drought the worst in a century. To prevent famine, the government plans to import at least four million tonnes of maize.

Zuma can handle the distrust vote

March 1st

With 225 votes against 99, the opposition’s declaration of confidence against President Zuma is dismissed. The background to the vote is the economic crisis triggered by the switches at the Finance Minister post in December. According to the statement of disbelief, Zuma’s “irrational, irresponsible and foolish leadership” would have caused the country’s economy “immeasurable damage”.

Corruption charges can be retried

March 1st

A court is considering a request by the opposition to re-examine corruption charges from a prosecution filed in 2009.

South Africa Energy and Environment Facts

About the author