Wild Coast Communities Case

12 January 2016
"We are not poor as long as we have land"

The very name “Wild Coast” conjures an image of a magical place steeped in the rich cultural and environmental heritage of the amaMpondo people. Unfortunately, it has now become synonymous with displacement, manipulation and backhanded wheeling and dealing by SANRAL. 

The Wild Coast Highway Development plan proposes the construction of a new toll highway through the Wild Coast region of the Eastern Cape. This proposed toll road would cut through the ancestral lands of the Amadiba Administrative Area. Many of the amaMpondo People who live on this land are opposed to the construction of this high-speed, limited-access toll road as it would have a negative effect on their community and environment. The Sigidi and Mdatya communities are being represented by the environmental law firm Cullinan & Associates in seeking to review the environmental authorisation which permits the construction of this road.

The respondent in the highway dispute is SANRAL, who believes that building the highway will assist in creating jobs and alleviating poverty through this large-scale infrastructure project. However, many members of the affected communities – some of whom Cullinan & Associates are representing in this case – argue that this so-called development doesn’t take into account the experiences and needs of the affected community members, and that the narrow definition of SANRAL’s ‘development’ approach does not apply to them.

Nonhle Mbuthuma, who has become a leading voice in the Amadiba community, believes that her community is not ‘poor’, in any true sense of the word. They grow maize, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, onions, spinach, carrots, lemons and guavas on their ancestral lands; selling some of the crops for cash. Agricultural development and eco-tourism is the type of progress that she believes is needed to improve the lives of people in her community.

“We fish and we eat eggs and chickens. We have cattle for weddings and traditional rituals. We have goats for ceremonies. We are not among the quoted one out of four South Africans who go hungry to bed. We have a life here.” - Nonhle Mbuthuma, Community Leader, Amadiba Community

Not all members of the Wild Coast communities agree with Mbuthuma; some see the Wild Coast Highway development plan as a way out of poverty that will bring infrastructure and access to the community. It is those others who view the proposed plan as a potentially destructive scheme; one that has been conceived without any true sense of community participation who have engaged Cullinan & Associates to represent them in trying to stop the road.

The issue is further complicated by the interests of an Australian mining company MRC Minerals that is determined to open the Xolobeni open-cast mine; and who have perhaps the most to gain from the construction of a new highway capable of moving heavy machinery, ilmenite and other heavy minerals in and out of the area. Most of  the amaMpondo communities are unanimous in their opposition to a proposed mine as it would require moving homesteads, livestock and ancestral graves away from the area. The highway and the mine would result in a complete change in the way of life of these communities. It should be the communities themselves who get to make such decisions rather than having the interests of corporations and government imposed on them, without adequate consultation and participation. Cullinan & Associates is arguing, on behalf of their community clients, that the road will not only destroy precious livelihoods and cultural heritage; it would cause irreparable damage to the surrounding environment and curtail any hopes of developing a viable ecotourism industry in the region over the medium to long term.

Cullinan & Associates are litigating not just for the ecosystems and environment that will be damaged by the proposed toll road; but most importantly on behalf of the communities that inhabit that environment. SANRAL’s failure to consult with the communities most affected by the proposed toll road must be addressed and rectified, and Cullinan & Associates is proud to have been asked to represent the communities in seeking administrative justice in this process.

The Sigidi, Mdatya and the other amaMpondo communities need support in continuing with the legal opposition to the proposed construction of this destructive highway.  The communities lack the financial resources to sustain the fight against SANRAL’s well-resourced legal team. Much of the work done by Cullinan & Associates and the advocates in this case has been done pro-bono or at a heavily reduced rate and with mounting costs and hearings approaching, the communities urgently require funding to continue their opposition.

To help support the fight against SANRAL and this destructive project, we urge you to donate funds to this lengthy and complex legal battle the communities face in holding government to account and ensuring that justice is served in the Wild Coast.

You can donate to the legal campaign here: http://www.swc.org.za/donate.php




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