Communities Continue To Speak Out Against Government’s Proposed Gas Plans – Bad For Climate Change and Bad For The People

Since late-November 2021, following the overwhelming public outcry against Shell’s planned seismic surveys on the precious Wild Coast – still an unrealised dream holiday destination on many a local’s bucket list – South Africans have awoken to the fact that government intends to search for and extract any remaining oil and gas reserves, which comes at the cost of the livelihoods of those who depend on the ocean, and the land. This week, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) hosts a series of public hearings in various provinces on the Gas Amendment Bill – which aims to “address loopholes, omissions and other challenges experienced in the process of implementing and enforcing the Act” – and small-scale fishers and farmers, around the country, have come out to voice their opposition.

According to The Green Connection’s Community Outreach Coordinator Neville van Rooy – resident in the Karoo, where government has long been trying to pursue fracking interests – the key concern with the Gas Amendment Bill is that it will help to facilitate and possibly fast-track government’s gas aspirations, making it harder for the public to oppose such projects. Van Rooy, who has been working with small-scale fisher communities for the better part of two years, made an oral submission on the contentious Gas Amendment Bill in Parliament, last December, and is currently participating in the community-based public hearings on the bill, taking place this week. He says that in addition to the issues gas and oil operations will create for affected communities, another concern is the impact of gas emissions on climate change.

Community Coordinator Neville van Rooy spoke at the protest against the Gas Amendment Bill in Saldanha Bay

He says, “Gas is not a viable transition fuel, and many citizens are opposed government’s proposed gas plans. We know that once the amended Gas Bill becomes policy, South Africans can expect to see more seismic surveys on our shores, which we will have no way of stopping, as we did with Shell. And while we may have won against Shell, there is already another seismic survey in the works on the West Coast, and more applications in the pipeline. The message this Bill sends to foreign gas companies, is that the untapped resources of South Africa are open to plunder. Yet, South Africans are tired of being exploited. What will happen to our oceans? What will happen to those communities who make their living off the land and from the ocean? South Africa’s Gas Plan ignores the livelihoods of these communities. It cannot be that profits for a few are more important than the wellbeing of many. This is why it is critical that the people must get involved. We can no longer simply accept decisions from government, especially if these decisions will make our lives worse.”

The public hearings, which are being held in communities around the country, started on Monday (17 January 2022) in Graaff Reinet/Karoo – a contentious area that government has previously attempted to drill in search of shale gas, through fracking operations. Hearings continue from (tomorrow) Friday 21 January in Beaufort West, Saturday 22 January in Mossel Bay, and on Sunday 23 January in Saldanha. 

Community members of Saldanha Bay protest against the Gas Amendment Bill and submit their oral presentations at the public hearings

 See below, comments from citizens (some able to participate in the public hearings, others not) – in Kommagas and Kleinsee in Northern Cape, West Coast and Karoo in Western Cape, and Gqeberha and Port St. John’s (Wild Coast) in Eastern Cape – with their reasons for opposing government’s Gas Amendment Bill:

Andy Pienaar, Kommagas, Northern Cape (Kobush)

This new Gas Amendment Bill, which affects legislation, is very concerning. First, local communities – who will be affected most since there are proposals to push gas/oil here – are not being considered nor included in the discussions. We have had no real chance to engage on this issue, yet we are the ones who will be directly affected. Hearings for the province are in Kimberley, but that is hundreds (900) of kilometres from where we are and from where gas developments are currently being proposed. How are our people supposed to get to the hearings, without government assistance, if it is held so far from us? We expect government to meet us in our location, to explain the amended bill to us and to also consider our inputs and plans that we have for development in our region. Come to Namaqualand.

We are very disappointed with this process as it is currently because, if this Bill is passed into law, it will completely change our lives, and not for the better. Our environment will completely change, and we will be restricted from accessing the ocean that that we depend on. This amended Bill will sabotage our future economic wellbeing. We hope that government will make things right by coming to our communities and explaining all the different terminology and what it means, in our mother tongue, which is Afrikaans.

Jerome Fortuin, Kommagas Northern Cape

I heard about government’s plan to change the law, through the Gas Amendment Bill. To us, this seems like yet another way to legally dispossess indigenous people from their land, in the name of foreign investment. We object. We ask that government recognise and thoroughly inform and involve indigenous people. Do not disrespect us by holding the public hearings so far away from where we are. Kimberley is too far. I believe that our experience and indigenous knowledge have value and can benefit government’s plans for development but for this to happen, the people must be recognised as valuable partners. It is wrong to exclude the people. As such, I am opposed to the Bill.

Samantha Cloete, Kleinsee Northern Cape

This oil and gas development that seems to be coming into our area, is not a good idea. We are not involved nor informed about what is happening here. As a resident, I do not think that oil and gas projects should be developed here because we have several small-scale fishers who make a living from the ocean, and oil and gas operations will negatively affect one of our key sources of livelihood. What will be left of the ocean when these foreign companies and government have finished with it? There will be nothing left for the people who depend on it. And how will our lives be affected during operations? We say a resounding No to OG in our oceans! We will fight, for as long as it takes, to keep these harmful developments from our coast.

Charmaine Coetzee, Saldanha

By pushing this Gas Amendment Bill, this government will actually be taking the bread and butter from the mouths of small-scale fishers – men and women – and their families, of this country. These are peoples who have lived from the sea for generations. My husband, who recently passed away, was a fisher all his life (more than 40 years). That was all he knew how to do. That is how he took care of his family. This is the way of life for most of the people here. We make our life from the ocean. We always have something in our freezer, good nourishment from the ocean. That is why we say, “No, to oil and gas in our oceans!”

Charles Lakay, Langebaan West Coast

This is not fair, what this government wants to do to us small-scale fishers. They will get all the profits and we will get nothing. I grew up on the ocean. We cannot have government and oil and gas companies destroy our livelihoods and way of life. We will strongly oppose, even if it means civil disobedience. We do not want oil and gas drilling in our oceans. It puts our fish at risk of are being wiped out and this will negatively affect our small-scale fishers.

Theuns Laubscher, Saldanha

I am deeply unhappy about government’s gas plans, especially since they want to drill in our oceans, which we depend on for our livelihoods. The bounty of the ocean is our bread and butter. It is how we are able to care for our children and put food on the table. This is who we are and how we live.

Johanna Vraagom, Saldanha

I was born of fishers. I married a fisher. My entire life, I could depend on the ocean. We feel like the colonisation and exploitation of the indigenous people of South Africa continues. Why are we always the ones who are treated so poorly? Small-scale fishing communities are not educated at universities. Our people are educated by the sea. We make our lives from the ocean and, as such, we do not want oil and gas drilling in our oceans. This government is playing with our bread and butter and we are prepared to do what is necessary to protect our ocean and our livelihoods. We are tired of always coming in last. Leave our oceans alone, so that we can still have some kind of chance at a happy and healthy life.

Johannes van Rooy, Willowmore

I am very concerned about the environment in my community, particularly protecting our scarce water sources. I reject government’s Gas Bill because they want to do fracking here, to get the gas. For a place with so little water, we cannot afford to use what little water we have on fracking and, more importantly, we cannot risk our precious groundwater from becoming contaminated.

We are already struggling. Others, who do not even live here and who will not have to live with the consequences of their actions, they are the ones who benefit, while we, the ones who live here, will have to live with it. I have seen the health consequences of mining in other communities, and I do not want that to happen here. That is why I say no to the Gas Bill.

Flip Kortje, Willowmore

“We do not accept the Gas Bill and the mining operations that go with it. We do not see the rehabilitation of mines, yet the people living near abandoned mines are getting sick. There are so many mines in South Africa, which they promised would be rehabilitated. But they fix nothing. Just empty promises. So many people suffer already in the country, we cannot allow this high-polluting industry to harm any more of our people.”

Regina Ndleleni, Vrygronde in Graaff Reinet

We do not agree with the Gas Bill because we do not want any developments that could harm our precious water and our land. We rely on these for our community gardens and livestock. As it is, the Karoo is a place that struggles with access to water. This is why we are against any drilling for oil and gas. It is just not worth the risk.

Khoi-San Leader Joey Dearling from Graaff Reinet Karoo (is also an environmental activist with Karoo Environmental Justice Movement (KEJM) – attended the public hearing.

We are opposed to government’s Gas Amendment Bill because Section 24 of the Constitution says that everyone has a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing. Drilling for gas and oil will have negative impacts.

A key issue for us here in the Karoo, our dam is standing at 5%, as we currently experience the worst drought in 140 years. If this Bill is approved, we know that they will come for the Karoo next because they want to frack the land here. However, the people of the Karoo are completely against fracking – it will harm our precious water sources, which we simply cannot risk. Instead, we fully support renewable energy. This way we can better protect our land for future generations, which is critical.

Ntsindiso Nongcavu, Port St. John’s

As a fisher, I am against oil and gas in our oceans, and the seismic surveys that go with them because I believe that if the blasting continues, the fish that we need to survive, will die and others will migrate. Time and time again, government demonstrates that it does not consider the people. They are only interested in making profit, with no benefit for us as fishers. It is only beneficial for certain ANC members, and we are tired of being bullied by the ANC. We see that they have sold our land and our ocean, to fulfil their needs. We are in a country where the unemployment rate is high due to corruption. It is not that there are no funds but rather that only certain people are benefitting, while we are caught in the crossfire. Therefore, we say no to the Gas Amendment Bill.

We can live without oil and gas as we have natural forests to depend on. The only thing we need is pure water and clean oceans. Government must respect the voters and those that have nothing. Not only those with money should matter. As voters, we must think twice about whether we need this kind of treatment. It has been almost 28 years with democracy, but we are still treated like the apartheid era. Even though the Bill will affect us, these public hearings did not make it to the Wild Coast, only in East London. In my opinion, it is because government realised that we are knowledgeable about oil and gas, now they do not want to include us in the hearings.

Zukisa Mankabane, ECEN and Green Connection; presenting at Gqeberha

I am totally against the Gas Amendment Bill – gas and oil is bad for our health. Emissions from gas are harmful. And when they talk about jobs, those jobs are not for us because they need people with special skills. So, you see, we will not benefit (not even the women will benefit). Government, the Ministers, we know that you will benefit. We see that your families get the jobs. But as the rich become more empowered, we lose all our power. We cannot see where small-scale fishers fit into your economic plan because these oil and gas projects will not help us. It will make our lives worse.

Legacy Programme 2021 participants Ntsindiso Nongcavu (left) and Zukisa Mankabane (Right)

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