What’s Going On?

Canadian oil and gas company ReconAfrica has begun exploratory drilling in three test wells in the Kavango Basin, located in northeastern Namibia and northwestern Botswana. Their licence to explore for oil and gas covers an area of 13,200 square miles, including parts of the Cubango-Okavango River Basin which feeds into the Okavango Delta. The Okavango delta is an UNESCO world heritage site renowned for its rich biodiversity such as the world’s largest elephant population and many other endangered species. The licensed area is home to 200,000 people and indigenous groups such as the San people who have sacred cultural relationships with this land as well as relying on it for their livelihoods. 

The area has been estimated to potentially produce as much as 120 billion boe (barrels of oil equivalent) and could lead to the emitting of a staggering 51.6 billion tonnes of CO2 into the environment. That’s equivalent to one sixth of the world’s remaining carbon budget (the amount of CO2 the world can emit if it is to limit global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels).

Who will be affected?

The Okavango delta region is home to indigenous peoples including The San First Peoples of Southern Africa. Oil exploration will damage and transform the fragile, irreplaceable ecosystem on which the San depend. Nearly one million people are dependent on the Okavango basin and its water source for their livelihoods. Most locals depend on hunting, conservation and tourism all of which will be under threat from the project. 

Local communities report not being properly consulted about the prospective project, often  being shut out of consultations. Mduduzi Tshabalala of XR Vaal who lives in Sebokeng, South Africa said “most people are confused, they don’t know exactly what are the plans of ReconAfrica. Their environmental impact studies are not out as yet and this is confusing to many. Also, the fear of residential removal to make space for pipeline into the villages is already happening.”

ReconAfrica claims that oil drilling will provide locals with jobs, and it could be considered reasonable for Namibian officials to legitimately ask why they shouldn’t exploit their fossil fuels, when Global North countries continue to exploit theirs and have done for years. However there are other ways the international community can assist such as supporting renewable energy in the area (with proper consultation of the locals), sharing technologies, supporting indigenous-led conservation and initiating climate reparations. There are strong concerns about the oil corporations failing to inform communities about the potential devastating impacts of oil extraction and clean up processes, as has been seen in the Niger Delta and other areas.  

This is not just an environmental issue but a direct play of neocolonialism, land grabbing and the continued abuse of those least responsible for the climate crisis for profit (yet again) by the Global North.

How are people resisting?

We’ve been in touch with activist groups in South Africa who have been campaigning against ReconAfrica’s actions. On Friday 4th June XR Vaal and Gauteng demonstrated outside and delivered a letter to the Canadian Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa to demand that Canada intervene in its company’s destruction. 

Mduduzi Tshabalala from Sebokeng who is part of  XR Vaal/Gauteng  and who we were in touch with for this article

Mduduzi from the group said “the police were trying to chase us, but decided to leave us alone when they realised we were a handful in number and non-violent. We were attended by the lady in charge of their security system. She said we were unlawful and they were not going to accept any letter whatsoever. That was rude of them. We sent an e-mail last week and that was not responded to.” 

The group’s next step will be to write another letter to the embassy with the help of a Canadian Professor from the University of Johannesburg who will ensure the letter is received by relevant authorities.

On the same day concurrent demos occurred in Cape Town, Berlin, London, Vancouver, Washington and Windhoek, Namibia

Photos below are of Save the Okavango Delta action in Cape Town, South Africa. 

In February, a group of six San leaders and supporters started a walk from Knysna to Cape Town, South Africa to connect with San and Khoe communities and gather support for defending their spiritual motherland in the Kavango.

#BeCurious, What Can you do to help?

Photos from the XR Vaal and Gauteng’s protest outside the Canadian Embassy in Pretoria: