Sasol, the fuel and chemicals from coal group and one of the single biggest harmful gas emitters in the southern hemisphere, was forced to postpone its annual meeting on Friday after disruptions by environmental protesters.
Recently appointed chairman Stephen Westwell tried to accommodate the protesters and invited them to a meeting with the board, but this was declined and he was unable to communicate properly with shareholders. Some shareholders, such as Old Mutual and Ninety-One, had indicated prior to the meeting they would not support climate change related resolutions.
Big companies are under increasing pressure globally from activists, other civic organisations, governments, financiers and funders to clean up their environmental footprint and meet globally recognised carbon emission targets. In June, there were also protesters outside Standard Bank’s annual meeting.
"We regret the inconvenience caused to other shareholders by the disruption," Westwell said.
According to report, Sasol accounts for a fifth of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and emits many other pollutants. It has claimed to be committed to its targets of cutting emissions by 30% by 2030 and to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Some visuals of the protests at the meeting were released on “X” and it was apparent that among the protests, were testimonies of residents living in close proximity to Sasol’s plants in Secunda, who claimed to have been medically impacted by its air pollution.
Just Share, a corporate and environmental activist organisation had also advised Sasol shareholders not to vote for Sasol’s “Say on Climate Resolution” at the meeting and said responsible shareholders should rather demand cleaner short- and medium- term targets, detailed action plans and meaningful accountability mechanisms for executives and board members.
Old Mutual had similarly urged fellow shareholders not to vote in favour of the resolution saying that Sasol’s commitment to achieving the targets were regressing.
Ninety One, South Africa’s largest privately owned fund manager, said according to other media reports, that it would not endorse Sasol’s climate report at the annual meeting because of uncertainty surrounding Sasol’s ability to secure gas for its Secunda plant, a key component of meeting 2030 climate targets. South Africa is forecast to be facing a “gas cliff” in three to four years as gas production from Sasol’s fields in Mozambique dwindle due to declining reserves.
The cancelled annual meeting comes amid a changing of Sasol’s two most senior managers. Westwell was appointed chairperson from November 11 after Sipho Nkosi stepped down citing concerns about possible perceptions of conflicts of interest between a company he was involved with that helped to fund Australian gas explorer Kinetiko Energy, which may become a supplier to Sasol.
Sasol also on Friday appointed Simon Baloyi as the President and CEO of the group, with effect from April 1, 2024.
Baloyi succeeded Fleetwood Grobler, who was appointed in November 2019, who would continue to serve in an executive advisor role until December 31, 2024, to ensure a structured handover, the group said in a statement.
Simon Baloyi is currently the Executive Vice President, Energy Operations and Technology at Sasol.