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Wild Coast Development Conflicts: Quo Vadis 2017?

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One year ago, near the picturesque Wild Coast village of Mdatya, while the soothing strains of the Christmas carol “Silent Night, Holy Night” were still echoing tidings of goodwill and peace to all humankind, another child was born in the early hours of New Year’s morn.

Akolwa Ndovela was born, not in a stable but under a Waterberry tree where her mother was hiding with her older siblings, having been chased out of their home by armed thug’s intent on clearing the way for MRC Ltd, an Australian mining company, and their local BEE partner Xolco to mine their ancestral lands for titanium.

Arrests were made, but that did not end the conflict. On 22nd March Sikosiphe ‘Bazooka’ Radebe the chair of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) who opposed MRC and Xolco ambitions, was brutally murdered. No arrests have yet been made. Fellow ACC leaders Nonhle Mbuthuma and Mzamo Dlamini have feared for their lives ever since. Shortly before he died Bazooka had warned them that he had learned of a hit list. He was the first name. They were 2nd and 3rd.

Will 2017 be another annus horribilis for the families who have been terrorised with increasing intensity ever since 2002 when MRC announced its intention to seek mining rights?

Government’s mishandling of the volatile situation before and since Bazooka’s murder is a causis belli for the worst of all wars, a civil war in the Amadiba community. ACC Attorney Richard Spoor explains: “The conflict is not between some people who are for, and other people who are against mining. That is a gross caricature. The conflict is between a mining company and a community who do not want mining.” (See the video on my YouTube channel here which was conducted after Government’s extraordinarily inept handling of what was supposedly a ‘peace building outreach’ on 18th July 2016).

Since that event, which descended into chaos once question time arrived (a chaos that only Nonhle Mbuthuma was able to calm, to the acute embarrassment of the Deputy Ministers present) the Minister served notice of intent to institute an 18 month moratorium to allow calm to return.

But that has not stopped DMR from continuing in its self-appointed role as mediator in the conflict.

“Cooking all dishes in one pot”.

After the Local Government Elections (which delivered significant gains for the anti-mining coastal residents with the election of Mzamo Dlamini as ward councillor for Ward 28, in which the mineral deposits lie), the Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane signalled his intent to declare an 18 month moratorium on the mineral prospecting while Spoor and the LRC have lodged an application on behalf of the Amadiba Crisis Committee and local residents in the North Gauteng High Court for a declarator to establish that prior, free and informed consent of directly affected communities is an absolute constitutional precondition for the State to award mining rights to anyone.

Alas, peace has not returned. DMR have arrogated to themselves the role of peace-maker and mediator, and the ACC is questioning whether Zwane has really declared a moratorium, or whether that was all just a bluff to create cover for the mining protagonists to continue their ruthless co-option and subversion strategy.

“We now know that the moratorium is not in effect” the ACC said in a statement on 24 November 2016. “Today, DMR officials refused to answer repeated questions on the matter. Instead they tried to establish a ‘Technical Committee’ under the ‘Mining Health and Safety Inspectorate’!!!”

The ACC leaders left the meeting in disgust, stating “DMR wants to have a committee to bulldoze a process that can end in mining of our land, no matter the bloodshed. DMR wants a house without foundation. As ACC we will not be a part of that. We witnessed three hours of confused tactics from DMR… cooking all dishes in one pot.”

Meanwhile, while DMR’s unappetising concoction was being spurned by the ACC, retiring Sanral CEO Nazir Alli has been desperately working to try and force a pre-cooked meal on the same community: his long-cherished ambition to tame the Wild Coast with a ‘troll’ road.

After the setback of having the first EIA report on the N2 Wild Coast ‘green fields’ section rejected on Ministerial Review in 2004 he was overheard saying that he would not retire until he had seen it built. But the Amadiba coastal residents, savvied up from their experience with DMR’s duplicities, has run rings around Nazir Alli. Another of my YouTube films Sanral’s Shortcuts 1 illustrates: a glaring expose of how signatures were forged and fraudulent affidavits lodged to support Nazir Alli’s claim that SANRAL enjoyed community support and had never mandated Cape Town environmental law firm Cullinan and Associates to oppose the road on their behalf. Alli routinely uses interlocutory ‘lawfare’ tactics as an attrition strategy against his civil society opponents. That strategy has begun to backfire on him with the Cape Winelands SCA judgment in favour of the City of Cape Town. Cullinan was the instructing attorney there as well.  

Yet the Big Lie strategy continues.

In November SANRAL hired Mr Ntsizakalo Ngalo (who has previously served as spokesperson for the claimant King in the Pondo Kingship dispute) to organise community meetings to persuade people to support the road.   Ngalo reported promised each affected household R4 million compensation to “make them rich”. Violating the protocols of local customary law, he went even further to incite the community against Nonhle Mbuthuma and the main applicant in the N2 Review Sinegugu Zukulu by stating they are the “only ones standing between the community and the promised jobs and compensation”, and that the community should “deal with them”.

Given the violent death of Bazooka Radebe, Cullinan has warned that “violence against the known opponents for the N2 Toll Road is a distinct possibility”.

Nonhle Mbuthuma, spokesperson for the ACC, is scathing.

“Save perhaps for certain mining companies, SANRAL must be the most ruthless and dishonest company in South Africa. SANRAL managers and consultants are lying as they drink water, not only in media, but also in sworn affidavits and at community meetings. That is why SANRAL had to withdraw four forged affidavits from court when fighting against the Amadiba coastal community”.

With characteristic contempt, Alli’s last stand before he retired was to have his chosen contractors commence preparatory work on the two largest bridges for the haul roads. This is despite a pending high court review, brought by local residents (for much the same reasons that apply to the Xolobeni mining rights) to seek another Judicial order to set aside the environmental authorisation by the Minister of Environment.

Alli still denies any purposeful connection between the new N2 shortcut and the mining scheme, but Margie Pretorius, chair of Sustaining the Wild Coast, the NGO that works with the ACC scoffs.

“They are connected because the same communities are affected and because the two schemes are mutually interdependent. You can’t mine successfully without an access route, and you can’t build an expensive road without a revenue source to pay for it. They might not have officially married but everyone can see SANRAL and the mining company are having a secret love affair.”

To add to SANRAL’s woes, a report by two respected transport economists, Professor Gavin Maasdorp and Allen Jorgensen has now recommended that the N2 Wild Coast road should be suspended “until the economic viability of the road has been thoroughly reviewed in the light of our criticisms”.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced in his MTBR that special funding would be allocated to Sanral. SWC is urgently seeking a meeting with Treasury, to alert them that SANRAL’s declared intention to commence construction of the R3.2 billion mega bridges will amount to pouring much needed fiscal resources into assets that will likely end up stranded.

“We have seen what has happened at Standing Rock”, says Pretorius. “Does Government really want that to happen now in South Africa?”

 

An edited version of the above article will be published in the February 2017 edition of NoseWeek Magazine.

About John GI Clarke

John Clarke hopes to write the wrongs of the world, informed by his experience as a social worker and theologian, to actualise fundamental human rights and satisfy fundamental human needs.  He has lived in the urbanised concentration of Johannesburg, but has worked mainly in the rural reaches of the Wild Coast for the past decade.  From having paid a fortune in toll fees he believes he has earned the right to be critical of Sanral and other extractive institutions, and has not held back while supporting Sustaining the Wild Coast (www.swc.org.za), the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (www.safcei.org.za) and the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (www.outa.co.za), in various ways.

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