Small-Scale Fishers Celebrate Victory After Makanda High Court Sets Aside Shell’s Oil Exploration

The wait is finally over for the Wild Coast communities and civil society when, on 1 September 2022, 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 for Shell. And while coastal communities and small-scale fishers celebrated this huge milestone victory, despite the good news, they know that there is still more work and advocacy that must be done to ensure that our oceans are protected for future generations.

The fact that Shell – a multinational oil and gas company – failed to conduct meaningful public participation processes with affected communities, only consulting traditional leaders about undertaking seismic surveys in the Wild Coast, was key to the challenge.

One of the applicants, a small-scale fisher from Coastal Links Port St. John’s Ntsindiso Nongcavu says, “As small-scale fishers we are extremely happy with this judgement. It proves the value of our advocacy and demonstrates that in unity, the people have the power.  This success will give hope to many communities, who have been disadvantaged by poor government decisions which did not include them. Winning doesn’t mean that the oil and gas companies will not continue trying to explore the resources on our shores. Therefore, the people must continue to unite and fight these injustices.”

Judge Mbenenge stated that the Wild Coast is home to communities that depend on the ocean for their livelihoods. In addition to the practice of customary rituals, fishing, sporting activities, the Wild Coast remains one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. He added that protected oceans fall under Section 24 of the Constitution that notes that everyone has a right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing. So, thankfully for now, Shell will not be blasting South African waters to explore oil and gas. And if they want to try again, they will have to follow proper consultation and environmental impact assessment processes.

“I am happy with the outcome. From now on, the voice of the people will be taken into consideration when they raise their concerns about oil and gas projects that could potentially cause irreparable harm to marine lives and livelihoods of people. This should set an example even for other oil and gas companies that fail to consult with communities,” adds Phumza Kalimashe a small-scale fisherwoman and skipper from Port St. John’s.

Another member of Coastal Links Port St. John’s Nandipha Nogwina, who is also a Legacy activist with The Green Connection says, “Civil society and coastal communities winning against Shell should be a clear indication to government that meaningful public participation processes are of utmost importance. We are happy as small-scale fishers that our voices have been heard and that the court’s decision favoured and supported us in protecting the pristine Wild Coast.”

Civil society organizations and coastal communities outside Makanda High Court

The applicants – Sustaining the Wild Coast, Mashona Wetu Dlamini, Dwesa-Cwebe Communal Property Association, Ntsindiso Nongcavu, Sazise Maxwell Pekayo, Cameron Thorpe and All Rise Attorneys for Climate Change and The Environment (NPC) – argued that:

  • For the commencement of seismic surveys in the Wild Coast, communities were not consulted
  • For exploration activities to commence, there needs to be environmental authorization in terms of National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) regulated by MPRDA


Written By: Lisa Makaula and Natasha Adonis

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