News & Events

ALL SOUTH AFRICANS SHOULD BE OUTRAGED AT THE MURDER OF ANOTHER ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST, #RIPFIKILENTSHANGASE

Mama Fikile Ntshangase

Human rights. Environmental rights. Socio-economic rights. Community rights. Last week, all of these took another massive blow with the assassination of Mama Fikile Ntshangase – who was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of a Tendele coal mine in Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal.

It is acts such as these – the senseless murder of a person working in service of her people, against corruption – that reaffirms to us activists that we are on the right path and that our fights must not only continue, but should be coordinated and amplified, countrywide.

We, the Green Connection, join the rest of the country in sending our sincere condolences to Mama Ntshangase’s family and loved ones. We mourn the loss of this powerhouse, but from her death we will draw inspiration to continue our work and to stand up for what is right.

See more information and further context/background in the joint media statement (shared on Friday, 23 October 2020), from the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (“MCEJO”) and its partners/supporters.

#RIPFikileNtshangase #JusticeForFikile #JusticeForBazooka

Joint Media Statement

THE KILLING OF SOMKHELE ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST, FIKILE NTSHANGASE

“I refused to sign. I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.” Tragically, grandmother Fikile Ntshangase’s words became a reality when she was gunned down in her home at Ophondweni, near Mtubatuba, on the evening of 22 October 2020. 

Mama Ntshangase was the Vice-Chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (“MCEJO”). MCEJO has been challenging the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd. One of the court cases brought by MCEJO is scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court of Appeal on 3 November 2020.

On Thursday, 22 October 2020 at about 18:30, four gunmen arrived at Mam Nsthangase’s house, where she lives with her 11-year old grandson. Current reports say that they forced themselves into the home and shot her 5 times, and that she died on the scene.

Tendele’s coal mining operations have caused untold destruction of the environment and the homes and livelihoods of the residents of Somkhele. Over the past few months, tension has been rising in the community over the proposed expansion of Tendele’s operations, and MCEJO’s opposition to that expansion. 

Recently, Tendele was pushing for an agreement to be signed between MCEJO and Tendele to the effect that MCEJO would withdraw its Court challenges of Tendele’s expansion of its coal mine at Somkhele. Mama Nsthangase refused to sign the “agreement”, which certain of her fellow sub-committee members signed, purportedly doing so on behalf of MCEJO.  

She warned sub-committee members that they had no power to make decisions on behalf of MCEJO and that the “agreement” only benefited Tendele. She also refused to attend any of the secret meetings that other sub-committee members held with Tendele.

Days before her brutal killing, Mama Ntshangase stated her intention to write an affidavit, revealing that sub-committee members had spoken to her of a payment of R350,000 in return for her signature. 

The court challenge that placed a price on Mama Ntshangase’s life is MCEJO’s pending review application of Tendele’s new mining right in respect of a 222km2 area in Mpukunyoni, KZN. This review is due to be heard by the North Gauteng High Court in March 2021. 

Tendele has publicly characterised MCEJO’s legal challenge as a threat to the mine’s continued existence, stating that, with the current mining area depleted, it needed to expand its mining area, or face closure. 

The expansion requires relocation of 21 families (19 of them MCEJO members) from their ancestral land. Many of these families have lived on their land for generations.

Tendele cannot commence any operations in the new mining right area until these families agree to Tendele’s “compensation” offer and sign relocation agreements. These families were subjected to months of violence and intimidation. Despite the clear volatility of the situation, Tendele has accused these families of “holding the Mine, its … employees and many families who have signed [relocation] agreements and indeed the entire community to ransom”.

Tendele carried out its pressure campaign even while these families were receiving anonymous death-threats and gunmen opened fire on one of the families’ homes. 

In May 2020, Tendele tried to bring an urgent court application to force the families to accept their compensation offer, but abruptly removed the matter from the Court roll when the families opposed the application.

Tendele has now embarked upon a campaign to pit the State, the Ingonyama Trust Board, traditional leaders and fellow community members against these families to pressure them into signing relocation agreements. Tendele requested the MEC for Transport, Community Safety & Liaison KZN, Minister Ntuli and department officials to set up a “task team”, with the aim of “the two court cases opened by MCEJO against the mine remain a threat and needs [sic] to be withdrawn”. This Task Team has since described their role to include “deliberat[ing] on the court cases which pose a threat”.

It is against this backdrop that the pro-mining campaign was stepped up during the past week. On 15 October, two sub-committee members, accompanied by two known hitmen, tried to disrupt a MCEJO executive committee meeting with community leaders, which included Mama Ntshangase. One sub-committee member tried to lock the doors, and a prominent leader was assaulted. A criminal case is being opened. This leader, who works in another area, has been warned that his life will be in danger if he is seen in the vicinity.

Billy Mnqondo, a founding member of MCEJO, reports that one of the hitman kept saying “kuzochitheka igazi” (there will be bloodshed). His appeal to the police is: “Make sure that the criminals who murdered our comrade are caught and go to jail. Mam Ntshangase was killed for standing up for what is right. This is wrong and cannot go unpunished.”

It appears that the mine is being supported by the KwaZulu-Natal government. In July, the Department of Community Safety and Liaison sent a staff member, apparently from its Civilian Secretariat arm (which is conspicuous in its absence whenever the threat of violence looms), to persuade community members to negotiate with the mine. 

Since then, after MCEJO members thought it only proper to approach the office of the Ingonyama King Goodwill Zwelithini about their struggle, they have come under even further government pressure via the office of the Premier and COGTA. This is the self-same government that claims to be a custodian for land reform to redress the land imbalance – while willfully pushing to displace rural farmers from their family land from which they subsist.

For the State and Traditional Authorities actively to assist Tendele in its efforts to orchestrate a withdrawal of MCEJO’s review application is abhorrent to our Constitutional order. Without access to Court, local communities’ right to dignity and section 24 environmental rights are illusory.

The strategies used by Tendele are sadly typical of many companies operating in impoverished rural communities. Mines dangle incentives to impoverished community members with the inevitable consequences of stirring deep community divisions, which almost always lead to violence and deaths. In rural areas that are difficult to police, it takes someone with the determination and the courage of Mama Ntshangase to promote community solidarity and resistance in the face of these strategies. There are other leaders of this calibre in MCEJO and, if anything, the assassination of Mama Ntshangase has renewed their determination to step up the fight against exploitation by the mine.

We mourn the senseless tragedy of Mama Ntshangase’s murder, and condemn her killing.

We call on the South African Police Service to act swiftly to arrest and prosecute her murderers.

We call on Tendele to stop its campaign of dividing and fomenting violence in the affected community of Somkhele, and to provide funds for Mam Ntshangase’s funeral and for maintenance for her orphaned grandson.

We stand by all defenders of land and environmental rights, and will act to defend their Constitutional rights to life, dignity, free speech, access to justice, access to food and water, and an environment not harmful to health or well-being.

Press Release shared on behalf of:

News & Events

The Global Fight for Environmental Justice and Pollution: Voices from the Ground

Webinar hosted by the World Resource Institute.

“Vulnerable communities around the world, including indigenous people and other marginalized minority groups, are exposed to greater levels of pollution and suffer higher rates of health problems. Yet despite decades of international action, people living with pollution and poverty are largely shut out of policymaking processes. When we listen to voices on the ground, better environmental decisions can be taken.” For more information

https://wri.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_pTTmgZrVT8OdL7rxHd1Skw

Articles, News & Events

ARE EIA’S WORTH THE PAPER IT’S WRITTEN ON?

by Jan Arkert

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the purpose of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study. But for the benefit of the layperson, especially those who will be affected by Total’s (TEPSA) application to drill an additional 10 exploration wells off the Cape South Coast, let me clarify. An EIA can be defined as the study to predict the effect of a proposed activity/project on the environment. It can also be regarded as a tool to aid the decision-making process as it compares various alternatives for a project and seeks to identify the one which represents the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.

So with this in mind, it should be of great concern to all interested parties that the noble concept of EIA’s has been reduced to nothing less than an elaborate box-ticking exercise. It is becoming increasingly apparent that Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAPs) – who are supposed to provide an unbiased opinion on proposed activities – conduct EIA’s to satisfy the requirements of bureaucrats.

In my opinion, it is evident that despite South Africa’s sound legislation, EIA’s are being undermined by vested interests that look to reduce the process to a financially rewarding exercise in which the essence of social and environmental reflection has been forgotten. In my opinion the process of conducting EIA’s is rapidly deteriorating into a disgrace. The situation can only be remedied when EAP’s truly act independently and in environmental and social interests, and government departments qualified to vet the reports do so with the due diligence and sincerity that is deserved. 

Having spent a substantial portion of my career perusing and commenting on environmental impact reports, I have come to the position where I must ask if they have any real value.

Post 1994, South Africa’s environmental legislation was redrafted, and Section 24 of our constitution includes clauses to guarantee our environmental health. There is no doubt that our National Environmental Act (NEMA) and its many derivations are sound pieces of legislation, but like any law, it is only as effective as its application.

Currently I am a registered interested and affected party (IAP) in Total’s (TEPSA) application to drill an additional 10 exploration well off the Cape South Coast.  The public were initially given 30 days to review – to go through a document that was more than 250 pages in length (an attachment of approx.. 55mb), covering complex scientific and technical issues.

The period for comment was extended by an additional 30 days due to objections lodged by The Green Connection and other environmental NGO’s who opposed the poorly conducted public participation process during the CoVid-19 lockdown period. The public participation process, as far as I know, was conducted as a single webinar that excluded communities and individuals with no access to wi-fi or electronic media.

Public consultation was not conducted. And, I emphasize the word consultation. Affected people along the Cape south coast have not been adequately empowered to provide an informed decision about activities along the coast, which may have direct impact on their lives. Consultation is not about placing adverts in newspapers that few people read, a few radio advertisements or placing large verbose documents in libraries. It is not about a webinar in which questions could only be placed in writing with no opportunities to provide follow up comments when inadequate answers were provided. Consultation is face to face meetings and discussions in which all communities are informed and empowered to provide their opinion on the issues that may impact upon their current and future lives.

The final Scoping Report has now been submitted to the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA), a government agency whose mandate is to promote exploration for onshore and offshore oil and gas resources and their optimal development on behalf of government. This is a great example of the fox guarding the hen house.

Be that as it may, diligently included in the final submission are comments received from IAP’s, by far the majority opposing the proposed off-shore oil and gas exploration. What struck me, as I went through the reply provided by the Environmental Assessment Practitioners (EAP), was the seemingly defensive tone as well as the number of replies that wish to assure us that TEPSA has the experience, or TEPSA will apply best industry practice or TEPSA motivated… I was not aware being a spokesman for the applicant’s abilities forms a part of the EAP’s scope of work.

This makes a complete mockery of the proudly presented declaration by the EAP that they have no vested interest in the outcome of the project – a standard declaration required in all these reports. Since when does a consultant, who is paid handsomely by the applicant, have no vested interest when his services are being paid for?

It is obvious, in my opinion that the EAP will do all in their power to ensure that they are re-appointed for the next phase of the project. They have a direct interest in the outcome of the project, their bottom line depends on it. So, once again economic considerations trump environmental protection and people’s livelihoods.

News & Events

Our Oceans Our Heritage

It is easy to take the vastness of the ocean for granted. In fact, oceans were believed to be limitless. It is the advent of technology that we have come to appreciate the complexity of the oceans by exploring the depths. We now know that the depths of the ocean can go as deep as 10km. The ocean floor is as varied as the land in its topography with deep valleys, flat plains known as the abyssal plains, and volcanic vents. Most of the earth’s surface is ocean so it comes as no surprise that the ocean plays an integral part of the human story. Humans derive great benefit from the ocean and science reveals more on how important the ocean is to human well being. Oceans regulate atmospheric temperature, distribute heat through out the globe through ocean currents, provide an environment for marine fauna and flora to thrive.

South Africa boasts a coastline of over 3000km and ocean area larger than the land. South Africa is rich in marine biodiversity owing to the three ocean currents. One of those currents is the cold Benguela current in the Atlantic ocean on the west coast which is a highly productive fishing ground. One of the popular species of fish owing to this productivity is mullet also known as harder.

Harder is enjoyed in many ways including fresh, pickled, salted and dried. Bokkoms which is salted and dried mullet is a delicacy which forms an important heritage of the west coast cuisine. It is mostly caught and processed by small scale fishers. Processing mullet into different varieties of bokkoms from dried to pickled creates a higher value product for small scale fishers. The processing is particularly done by women. This is one of the ways of creating a sustainable income of fisher communities.

Given the many benefits that can be derived from the ocean , conflicting interests have emerged. Offshore oil and gas mining is one of the emerging industries in South Africa which poses a great threat to other industries such as fishing and tourism due to the inherent impact of oil spills on ecosystems and the continual use of fossil fuels.

While we celebrate our diverse heritage on this day let us remember our natural heritage provided by our vast oceans and ensure its continual protection.

News & Events

Justice for Celimpilo Mdluli – FISHERMAN SHOT AND KILLED BY CONSERVATION AUTHORITIES IN NIBELA, ST. LUCIA

Small-scale fisherman Celimpilo Mdluli

On the night of Wednesday 16 September 2020, three fishers from the small scale fishing community co-operative in Nibela, near St. Lucia on the edge of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, went fishing in St Lucia lake. One of the fishers, Celimpilo Mdluli (30 years old), was shot dead, and a second fisher was shot above the knee. This killing of a young man, fishing to put food on the table for his family, is the latest in a deeply troubled history of conflict and violent harassment of small scale fishers by conservation officials working for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the iSimangaliso Heritage Authority. For years, the fishers of Nibela have fought for their rights to fish in their ancestral fishing grounds.

In the words of Mr. Thomas Nkuna, fisher leader and local chairperson of the fisher organisation Coastal Links: “everyone in Nibela depends on fishing. At Nibela there is not any kind of income that anyone can have there –the majority of people are living by fishing. We can call Nibela a fishing village. People from Nibela live through fishing. People who are now schooled, it’s because of the fishing”.

In 2016, the Nibela community applied to the then Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) for recognition as a small scale fishing community. In 2019 the small scale fisheries sector was launched in KZN. 106 fishers from Nibela were recognised and registered as a co-operative, and given rights to fish under South Africa’s Small-Scale Fisheries policy of 2012. Celimpilo Mdluli was one of the fishers included on the kwaNibela fisheries co-operative list. However, since the rights were allocated, there has been a lack of clarity regarding where fishers may fish, what fish may be harvested, and what gear may be used.

Despite the legal recognition by DEFF of their right to fish, the Nibela fishers (and many other small scale and subsistence fishers around the country) have faced ongoing violent harassment by conservation authorities and law enforcement officials. The Nibela fishers have complained and requested assistance repeatedly since 2017 to the Minister and the portfolio committee about being harassed by rangers inside the St Lucia heritage site.

Below is an extract of a letter from the Nibela community to the then Ministers of DAFF and DEA in 2017:

“Our ancestors settled this land around the lake and we have been fishing in the lake, feeding our families here and depending on the lake for food and for incema. We have been doing this for hundreds of years yet now we find ourselves harassed by iSimangaliso and Ezemvelo rangers who chase us away and who prevent us from feeding our families. Instead of respecting our customary system of governance and our customary law we find that they harass us“.

The lack of clear and co-ordinated communication between DEFF, iSimangaliso, Ezemvelo Wildlife and the small scale fishers regarding access of small scale fishers to protected areas has had deadly consequences in this instance. The weaponised policing of conservation areas, in the name of biodiversity protection, has led to the killing of a person who believed, and had been told by DEFF, that he had the right to fish where he was fishing.

The conservation authorities responsible will try to tell a story about dangerous illegal poachers. But Celimpilo Mdluli’s killing is a symptom of larger systemic injustices in the implementation of Marine Protected Areas, that violently exclude local people from the land and coast that is integral to their heritage and livelihoods.

The rangers and their actions are the direct result of a top-down, compliance centered approach to conservation. The responsibility for this lies at a high level within DEFF and the various conservation agencies, in terms of the lack of cooperative governance with regards to small scale fishers, a systematic failure to consider the social impacts of marine protected areas, and a very narrow interpretation of ‘sustainability’ that criminalizes customary coastal users.

As a coalition of civil society and researchers, we call for Justice for Celimpilo Mdluli, and for an immediate investigation into killing, as well as a broader process of restitution and healing around the conflict and exclusion perpetuated by Marine Protected Areas on coastal communities in South Africa.

Signed by: Coastal Justice Network South Africa; South African Small-Scale Fisheries Collective -The Collective; Chascavu Fishing Primary Co-operative; Koukamma Fishing Primary Co-operative; Sarah Baartman Fishing Primary Co-operative; KZN Subsistence Fishers Forum; Coastal Links Langebaan; Eastern Cape Black Fishers Co-operative; South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA); Masifundise Development Trust; Green Connection; Environmental Monitoring Group; Prof. Moenieba Isaacs; Tsele Nthane; Centre for Environmental Rights (CER); Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA); Natural Justice Poverty Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS); GroundWork; WoMin

News & Events

#FridayFowardFeature: Amadiba celebrate victory against a mining company

Demarcation of Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

The fight against mining of titanium has been won by the Amadiba Crisis Committee.  The Xolobeni community situated in Eastern Cape has been in hammer and tongs with the mining company Transworld Energy and Minerals (TEM) owned by Australian mining company MRC which wants to mine titanium in a 22km stretch of coastal and 1.5-2km inland area from the shore. The struggle for the Xolobeni community to protect their customary right over their ancestral land has been ongoing for about 18 years going in and out of courts. The villages affected namely, Sgidi, Mtentu, Sikombe, Kwayana and Mdatya were concerned about how their agricultural economy would be negatively impacted if mining went ahead. The Eastern Cape government also raised concerns of environmental hazards. It also meant relocation of homesteads even though there was no certainty of how villagers would be compensated. They constantly lived in fear especially when there was a stranger in the community due to the persistent intimidation. A total of twelve people have been killed, it is suspected as a result of being opposed to the mining.

In November 2018 the Amadiba community’s right to consent or reject mining on their land was affirmed through a court judgement against the mineral resource minister Gwede Mantashe and his department. In September 2020, Judge Makhubele at the Pretoria High court gave order that  companies interested in mining an area must give a mining application to interested and affected parties on demand and only sensitive financial information can be hidden. This allows for interested and affected parties to make informed decisions when they accept or reject mining, a key step in holding those who promise accountable.

The victory in essence is summed up that “meaningful consultation entails discussion of ideas on an equal footing, considering advantages and disadvantages of each course and making concessions where necessary” according to Judge Makhubele.

The people of Xolobeni have inspired hope in many and reminded the country that the voice of all people matters and that the true custodians of the land are it’s people. They tested the rigour of democracy through the courts and defended their future by demanding, transparency, fairness and any activity on the land to be sustainable. We are behind you Xolobeni!

Sources:

Amadiba Media release 14 September 2020

Xolobeni judders as mining hovers by Lucas Ledwaba – 15 Feb 2019, Mail and Guardian

News & Events

Appeal against an Environmental Authorisation for the proposed redevelopment of the River Club in Observatory, Cape Town

River Club, Observatory, Cape Town

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in the Western Cape recently granted an Environmental Authorisation for the proposed redevelopment of the River Club in Observatory in terms of the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998, and the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations, 2014 (as amended). This decision was issued to the applicant, the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, on 20 August 2020.

Under the National Appeal Regulations, 2014, the applicant, the decision-maker, any relevant organ of state and any registered Interested and Affected Party may submit a responding statement to the appeal authority and the appellant within 20 days from the date of receipt of the appeal submission.

The Green Connection supports the OCA in its appeal and in its call for IAPs to comment and support their appeal. If you agree, let them know on  riverclubappeal@obs.org.za.

The Green Connection believes that the Two Rivers urban park, established by the city more than 2 decades ago, is a jewel of open space that has heritage value for generations to come. It was the scene of a historic battle between the Khoi and the settlers over the rights to grazing lands.

The area is a place where the Observatory was built, and so a space of scientific excellence.  It is also a green space with two rivers running through it and a green lung for the people from Observatory and Maitland Garden Village.  The River Club located in a low lying area prone to flooding is also a climate change risk.  For a city that claims to be serious about climate change, it is incomprehensible for such a development to be contemplated at all.

The green connection, (part of the Two Rivers urban Park association) together with other organisatons has appealed the development decision.  The green connection also takes issue with the onerous conditions that apparently apply to ordinary people who wish to appeal the development.  We were asked to distribute our appeal to the more than 800 Interested and affected parties on the environmental  consultants list.  I do not believe that this would pass any constitutional challenge as it is biased against anyone who does not have advanced computer skills.

We need to exercise our democratic rights and ensure that our environmental heritage is protected. Now is the time to stand up and take action.

To support The Green Connection appeal, send your email here and copy to deadp.appeals@westerncape.gov.za and jody@orangestreet.co.za and to the environmental consultant – Matthew Law’ MLaw@srk.co.za

News & Events

#MakingMovesMondays

Oil and Gas Drilling Underway

The oil and gas drilling of the Luiperd-1 well led by Total E & P is well under way after it’s rig platform vessel arrived on the 21st of August. The project is intended to run for 12 to 18 months. Officials seem happy about potential economic growth yet there seems to be no consideration of how the environment could be negatively impacted by the project the ripple effects on the tourism and fishing industries.

Word from the Presidency: A climate-resilient recovery

In a newsletter released on the 24th of August, the Presidency expressed that the South African government with its partners wants to develop an economic recovery programme which will not be as it was pre-COVID-19. It recognised how lockdown has been good on the environment due to some of the industries that were not functioning which produce carbon emissions. Climate change effects have already been experienced in South Africa and should not to be taken lightly. The president stipulated that “A climate resilient economy is necessary to protect jobs, ensure the sustainability of our industries, preserve our natural resources and ensure food security.” Unfortunately, there is still a great push towards fossil fuel industries, case in point is the current offshore oil and gas drilling on the south coast. Until the words and intentions of the government are complimented by action, pre-COVID19 status quo will remain and the efforts towards climate change amount to little.

by Lisa Makaula

News & Events

Our Voices Feature : Small-scale fisherwomen lead

Lisa Makaula

Camelita Mostert, a small-scale fisher from Saldanah Bay

The Green Connection has been engaging with small-scale fishers on the west coast who will potentially be directly affected by the current developments in the ocean most specifically oil and gas drilling. A member of Coastal Links Camelita Mostert is a small-scale fisher from Saldanah Bay and has been in the fishing industry her whole life. She is one of few woman who owns a boat and able to employ people in her community. She seeks equality for small-scale fishers and the same treatment afforded to commercial fishers and other major industries. Camelita emphatically expressed that fishing is in her blood. She was spurred on to fight for the rights of small-scale fishers as her family would be served with hefty fines every 3 days from law enforcement for exceeding fishing limits and their fish and gear would be confiscated.

Small-scale fishers have been in dire straits as they need permits and their identity documents to fish in the area. Small-scale fishers were given interim relief permits however, the 10-years-experience criterion for these permits limits the entry of youth thus many do not qualify to receive permits. These small-scale fishers sell in local communities to alleviate poverty & they sometimes sell on credit. A concern for the fishing community is that the fishing industry would die if oil spills occur given that oil and gas drilling has began in South African oceans. As much as there are MPA’s (marine protected areas) she believes that fishers can protect the oceans. Fishing methods employed by small-scale fishers such as line fishing are less destructive compared to other large scale fishing methods. The reason she fights is that women push for what they want and do not go back until the end goal is reached.

A message from Camelita Mostert to women is “Do not let domestic violence keep you on the ground.” In addition, a message to the youth & women in the fishing industry is “Go strong, forward and do your thing and if you like fishing be patient and have love for it.”

News & Events

THE GREEN CONNECTION, CIVIL SOCIETY SUBMIT COMMENTS TO DMR TO HALT OFF-SHORE DRILLING

Small-scale fishing communities around the country, many of whom already face increasing unemployment, say they are concerned about the impact oil and gas drilling will have on their livelihoods.

The Green Connection (GC), a registered interested & affected party (I&AP), today submitted its comments on the government’s Draft Scoping Report in which Total E & P South Africa (TEPSA) are seeking a permit to drill an additional 10 wells, 40 to 110km south of Knysna and Mossel Bay.

The Green Connection had earlier raised its concerns regarding the issue and called for a stop to all offshore oil and gas drilling. The organisation cited the lack of adequate public participation in the process as well as the potentially significant impact of drilling on the environment and local communities. The situation has been given added impetus with the recent arrival of the DeepSea Stavanger oil drilling rig in Cape Town on top of the current oil spill disaster in Mauritius.

The Green Connection’s Liziwe McDaid said another concern was that the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA) appeared to be making decisions on behalf of TEPSA and Government. “We believe that PASA’s job is to comment on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and not make decisions. Decisions should be made by the DMRE.”

“In our submission, we point out that in trying to assess the environmental impacts of individual projects such as this, we also need to look at the cumulative impacts. How the environment will be further impacted based on previously approved drilling, such as that which the DeepSea Stavanger is planning for Mossel Bay. We cannot look at this this one well in isolation,” says McDaid.

“To date, public participation has been far from adequate. During the Covid19 pandemic, we have seen that the EIA public participation has continued, and yet affected communities, without adequate access to the internet, have no idea about what has been planned. We are also very concerned that the issue of climate change and its impact on the project is not outlined in the Scoping Report. We would like to see the inclusion of a mitigation and adaptation risks, with regards to the impact of climate change,” she says.

“The government and public at large need no reminding of the devastating effects of potential oil spills on the environment, its deadly impact on marine life as well as the risks to the coastal flora. However, the potential damage to the coastal communities, including fishers in the area, could be catastrophic in that ecosystem damage would affect the livelihoods of those coastal communities that have been dependent on the ocean for many years,” concludes McDaid.

Green Connection’s Neville van Rooy has been engaging coastal communities who could potentially be affected by the detrimental consequences of the drilling. He says: “On a recent visit with small-scale fishers who were affected by the oil spills that happened on the West Coast in the areas of Saldanha Bay, Langebaan and Paternoster in 1983, people spoke of the months-long consequences of the oil spill. They said the contamination was still prevalent months after the oil spill. This in-turn had a real-time effect on the community’s ability to fish and make a living.”

Van Rooy says that major gas and oil companies like Total had to look at viable alternatives to fossil fuels. “There are proven alternatives, with less negative impact on the environment and communities,” he said.

Chairperson of Coastal Links Eastern Cape Ntsindiso Nongcavu says that the community-based organisation – which helps small-scale fishers secure their livelihoods and their human rights – is concerned about oil and gas drilling because the government officials did not do proper consultation with the affected communities.

“Coastal Links EC says no to oil and gas drilling because there are too many risks for us small-scale fishing communities. We would lose of our fishing rights in the area around the drilling, and many ocean species will migrate as a result of the drilling. Already there are no job opportunities to help develop us as poor communities because we don’t have a skill. Our future is in fishing and tourism.”

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) in conjunction with the KZN Subsistence Fisherfolk Forum and the youth of South Durban says, “This ocean grab for oil and gas is wrong for so many reasons.  The South African coastline is highly sensitive with a wide range of marine biodiversity and we have just marked a decade since the BP Deep Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, where lives, livelihoods and biodiversity were lost.  Still to this day, the communities have not recovered.  We are now also witnessing the effects of the oil spill in Mauritius where the A Japanese bulk carrier that has leaked 4000 of tonnes of fuel causing an ecological emergency.”

Judy Bell, a member of FrackFreeSA and Coastwatch KZN echoed Green Connection’s concerns. She says: “The area where this gas grab is underway is an ecotone, where the warm Agulhas Current meets the cold waters of the Benguela Current. These are vast breeding and feeding grounds for all kinds of marine creatures, which support all our lives and livelihoods.  The impact of drilling waste, leaking wells or even a blow out, will be felt by all South Africans, Mozambicans and Namibians. We call for a moratorium on offshore exploration and extraction until a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) has been undertaken.”

Avena Jacklin from Friends of the Earth Moz and groundWork (FoE, SA) added: “Total is a big fish in the emerging gas grab taking advantage of the State of Disaster to fast track authorisations through lack of consultation and transparency. In addition, Total has failed to reveal the true results of its Brulpadda well findings and accident reports of earlier drilling failures. It has failed to consider financial provisioning for abandoned wells, blowouts and disasters, which would fall onto South African taxpayers. It has failed to consider the needs and desirability in a transition to a low carbon economy and the impacts of fossil fuels on South Africa’s extremely high GHG emissions. Total, in its process thus far, is set up for failure and brings huge risk to our oceans, fish breeding grounds and communities. We support the call for a moratorium on off-shore drilling in the affected area.”

The Support Centre for Land Change’s (SCLC) Rosa-Linda Kock stressed that authorisation for the drilling should not be considered. “Total and SLR have failed to connect with the potentially affected communities in the Garden Route District.  As far as SCLC is reaching out to these fishermen, they are all responding with the same:  “We know nothing about this.” No authorisation can and should be granted during the State of Disaster.”

The new ‘struggle’ in South Africa is being played out in the frontline between citizens and mining companies. Unless we realize that it is time to stand in unity against the mining corporates, our hope for a better life will be swallowed forever. Mining or life, we have to choose,” says Elizabeth Balcomb of FrackFreeSA.

Director at Justica Ambiental/Friends of the Earth Mozambique Anabela Lemos says: “Since the entrance of the gas industry (including Total), the communities of Cabo Delgado have lost everything – access to their farmlands, the ocean and their entire livelihoods. Their struggle has been exacerbated by the war which started in 2017, in which over 1000 people have been killed. These communities are terrified, not only of the insurgents, but also of the military, facing continuing human rights violations, including sexual assaults of women in villages. Journalists and outspoken people are randomly detained or disappeared. One journalist, Ibrahimo Abu Mbaruco disappeared in April and a community member, who spoke out against military violence, has been missing since May. What is happening in Cabo Delgado is a horror story, becoming more and more terrifying every day.”