A Just And Equal Society Is Possible: Ecuador Communities Win The Fight for Rights to their Land

Ecuador, a country in South America is obliged, as ruled by the country’s top court to ensure that Indigenous communities are consulted, in a clear and accessible process, before any oil and gas extractive activity is planned on or near their territory.The ruling also stated that the consultation process must be carried out with the purpose of obtaining consent or reaching an agreement with the communities. This represents a significant advance of the recognition of the rights of Indigenous people, according to the representative of Amazon Frontlines, an environmental NGO supporting Ecuador communities.  Previously the consultation process had been reduced to the level of an administrative exercise.

The South African government would do well to heed the results of the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court ruling. There is a long, sorrowful history of indigenous communities being side-lined in the rush for extraction of oil and gas in South Africa but communities have had enough. They are demanding meaningful consultation in offshore oil and gas developments. This has never been so evident as it has been in the last few months, with the groundswell of opposition to the seismic survey applications in South Africa’s ocean waters. Seismic surveys include seismic blasting, which can have potentially negative impacts on ocean creatures, including mammals and fish, and on ecosystems. This, in turn, has harmful consequences for fishers’ livelihoods.

Coastal communities from Eastern Cape and Western Cape protested against seismic surveys

The Green Connection, supports small-scale fishers in advocacy for their livelihoods, has assisted communities to make submissions regarding inadequacies in the public participation process. Liz McDaid, Green Connection’s Strategic Lead, said that although consultants allowed the minimum required 30 days for the public to submit comments on the developments, the draft environmental management plan and specialist reports are highly technical, and most of the fishing communities and affected groups that The Green Connection works with have not heard of the reconnaissance permit application. She adds, “With so little time to comment, it is unlikely that affected communities were able to provide any meaningful comment. “

Liziwe McDaid (left) and Ntsindiso Nongcavu (right)

Ntsindiso Nongcavu from Port St John’s, a Green Connection Legacy programme 2021 graduate and a leader of one of the many small-scale fishing communities along the wild coast says, “seismic testing will impact our fish and other marine life and will affect the ecosystems they need to flourish. Continuing to exploit our oceans will increase our carbon emissions (thereby exacerbating climate change) and take our country into extreme poverty and hunger. All the while, only a few will enjoy the wealth. We want wellbeing for all – not wealth for a few!” His sentiment was echoed by nearly 200 concerned environmental defenders in Cape Town on the 21st November 2021, who took to the Waterfront to protest against Shell’s seismic testing vessel, Amazon Warrior, as it made its way into Cape Town harbour. Communities in Cape Town, Saldanha Bay, Langebaan, Knysna, Port St Johns, Gqeberha, Mzumbe  Karoo, Durban, Richards Bay, Johannesburg, and even Leeu-Gamka held public protests against seismic surveys. One thing is crystal-clear, people are adamant that they want just change. It is time for our indigenous communities to get the same Constitutional Rights as those in Ecuador, the right to say no.

Written By: Christy Bragg

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