Shell Verdict: Evidence That In Standing Together, Coastal Communities Can Be The Masters Of Their Own Ships

“Civil society, traditional communities and small-scale have once again been vindicated by the courts. Well done to our comrades for staying the course of this fight against Shell, to protect our oceans and the rights of those communities who will be affected.” This is the message from The Green Connection, an eco-justice organisation opposed to offshore oil and gas exploitation.

It has been a tense road for the small-scale fishers who took Shell to court, back in December 2021, in a bid to stop a marine seismic survey offshore of the Wild Coast (Eastern Cape). Since first hearing about the imminent arrival of Shell’s seismic testing vessel the Amazon Warrior at Cape Town harbour a month before and snowballing into a national outcry, this issue finally comes to a head, in a historic moment for civil society, small-scale fishers in particular.

However, yesterday the Makhanda High Court ruled that the decision to grant the exploration right is set aside, as well as the decision to grant the renewal of this right. The decision to grant a further, second renewal, has also been set aside.

In December 2021, local communities and environmental justice organisations took Shell to court, first to request an urgent interim interdict to stop the seismic testing the company had started in the Wild Coast, a few weeks earlier. Then, in May 2022, the applicants were back, this time asking the court “to review and set aside the 2014 decision by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) to grant an exploration right to Shell and Impact Africa to conduct seismic surveys off the ecologically sensitive Wild Coast of South Africa.”

According to The Green Connection’s Strategic Lead Liziwe McDaid, “Once again, albeit with the help of the courts, ordinary South Africans have shown that the Constitution and what it stands for, will always win over decisions that are not in the public interest. This victory is also a great message to the rest of Africa for African Climate Week, since our continent is experiencing an onslaught of offshore oil and gas proposals, which will have detrimental future impacts. And, if South Africa is serious about climate change, then we must halt all offshore oil and gas exploration, immediately. We hope that this court victory serves to signal a shift to good governance of our oceans which is needed in the climate crisis we face,” adds McDaid.

Ntsindiso Nongcavu from Coastal Links Port St. Johns says, “We are against oil and gas drilling in the ocean. This ruling, in our favour, means that our lives will carry on, as our livelihoods depend on fishing. We are happy that our plans have been fulfilled and our livelihoods have been secured, not just for us but for future generations. This outcome motivates us because our government pays no mind to its people, but instead seems to want to make foreign companies richer. This is why we, as small-scale fishers, oppose oil and gas. Because if the onslaught of offshore oil and gas continues then future generations will have no interest in the sea as a means of life. We are glad that Shell did not win this case because it would mean that thousands of fishers will not be able to use the ocean as before, because it will be zoned off and turned into a no-go area. People will have to be evicted to make space for these operations. That would mean that people’s rights will be taken away from them.”

Civil society organizations outside Makanda HIgh Court after court ruling

Spokesperson for the Amadiba Crisis Committee in Xolobeni Nonhle Mbuthuma says, “We have decided not to go to the Makhanda High Court to listen to the court ruling. We have decided to gather as the seven (7) villages to listen to the ruling at The Great Place. We are very happy that the judgement is in favour of our community. This means that the planet wins because it has been saved. If the judgement had been in favour of Shell, then that means that the whole planet loses everything, because this case is not just about livelihoods. It is about saving the planet and humanity.” 

Sinegugu Zukulu from Sustaining the Wild Coast says, “Unlike other coastal stretches in South Africa, indigenous communities have maintained continuous possession of this land, despite waves of colonial and apartheid dispossession. This is no accident. Our ancestors’ blood was spilt protecting our land and sea. We now feel a sense of duty to protect our land and sea for future generations, as well as for the benefit of the planet.”

A key issue in the case of Shell’s seismic survey off the East Coast is that the company relied on an old Environmental Management Programme (EMPr) from 2013. However, even in 2013, many affected communities were not consulted about what a seismic survey might mean for them, since many did not know about the exploration right application and were not even listed as interested and affected parties. Another issue is that media channels and languages selected, further served to exclude many traditional communities. Indigenous languages, commonly spoken in the region, were ignored (only English and Afrikaans were selected), and no radio or community publications – which are popular in these communities – were used.

Civil society organizations outside Makanda HIgh Court after court ruling

Furthermore, according to The Green Connection, it appears that Shell did not consider (or chose to ignore) the migration season for hump-backed whales, in addition to the juvenile turtles that would come down the coast in the Agulhas current, into the survey area during December. Yet, its own 2013 EMPr stated that that they should try to “avoid surveying during December”. Why did Shell choose to go commence its seismic survey during December 2021, when it should have known about the risk to these animals?

According to The Green Connection’s Community Outreach Coordinator Neville van Rooy, “Civil society’s court case against Shell shows that South Africans care about the ocean and the environment. And the overwhelming groundswell of outrage from civil society – which led to a coastwide civil action against Shell’s disregard of affected communities – demonstrates that people are realising that oil and gas exploration and production can negatively impact oceans and livelihoods that are dependent on the oceans, a natural resource that belongs to us all.”

“As the 12th-biggest emitter of carbon, globally, how can South Africa allow Shell and others to pursue more GHG-emitting oil and gas, – Shell was recently ordered in the Dutch courts to “slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 compared with 2019 levels” – and we are happy that the courts refused to allow the company to continue. How can government not see that, in this climate emergency, oil and gas will be a game-changer of the worst kind? The continued pursuit of an economy which includes new fossil fuels is blocking our opportunities that should come from the just transition instead of becoming the renewable energy industry powerhouse we could be, and which could play a central role in addressing the widespread inequality, instead South Africans are missing out,” adds van Rooy.

The Green Connection believes that due to the negative environmental impacts of offshore seismic surveys and the climate crisis, we should halt all oil and gas exploration and that we should protect our oceans and support those communities whose livelihoods depend on a healthy ocean.

Click the link below to sign The Green Connection’s petition to stop offshore oil and gas, as part of its Who Stole Our Oceans campaign –


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