Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: June 2019

Chapter 15 - Eco-Capitalist Crises in the ‘Blue Economy’: Operation Phakisa's Small, Slow Failures

    • By Desné Masie, International economics and financial markets. She is currently a visiting scholar in international political economy at the School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand., Patrick Bond, Professor of Political Economy in the School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand.
  • Edited by Vishwas Satgar, Wits University
  • Publisher: Wits University Press
  • pp 314-337


The mid-2014 South African introduction of the ‘big fast results’ methodology behind Operation Phakisa (‘hurry up’ in Sesotho) – applied in the first instance to the ocean's ‘blue economy’ – followed President Jacob Zuma's 2013 visit to Malaysia, whose leaders applied the strategy to economic policy. The nomenclature, process and strategy reflected the increasing desperation and quickening of what might be considered an ‘extractivist’ metabolism (Martinez-Alier 2002) between global capital, local ruling classes, society and nature (Terreblanche 2017).

Though Zuma's (2014) stated objectives of ‘growing’ ocean-related economic activities – especially shipping, boat construction and offshore oil and gas exploration – are running afoul of global economics, the conversion of nature into capital and attempts at ‘deriving value’ – as Zuma (2014) put it – from ecosystem services are increasingly common internationally. But the Phakisa rush follows a period of upsurging fusions between what Jacklyn Cock (2004) calls ‘red, brown and green’ resistance movements, including mineworkers, fisherfolk, farmers, feminists and climate activists, to name a few of the more prominent, some of which aim to introduce strategies associated with ‘just transition’ philosophy.

Regardless of the capacity of bottom-up resistance, Phakisa soon appeared to be on the verge of failing due to the trajectory of crashing commodity prices from above, as China's growth slows and as the global North's financial speculators moved from one bubble to the next. Shipping, mining, smelting and petroleum industry firms were demolished in the world's main stock markets during 2015. Either this stage of world capitalist crisis would require from South Africa's elites a more intense extraction of the country's resource base, or an entirely new trajectory, aimed at accumulation via routes other than what Ben Fine and Zavareh Rustomjee (1996) termed the ‘minerals–energy complex’ (MEC).

Recall the exhortation from leading business publisher Peter Bruce to ‘please, mine more and faster and ship what we mine cheaper and faster’. Economic policy makers soon moved to the very depths of their terrain: the 3.5 kilometre deep trenches below the treacherous Agulhas Current offshore of Durban.