Civil society recently celebrated a win when SLR Consulting, on behalf of Total E&P South Africa (TEPSA), granted respondents a 30-day extension to comment on the Draft Scoping Report for further oil exploration and drilling in Block 11B/12B, along the country’s South coast. The NGO The Green Connection and its partners recently attended a severely flawed public participation process, staging a virtual walk-out protest of the proceedings.
“At a time when South Africans are preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, procedurally fair public participation will be a major challenge. We are also concerned about the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process being conducted during this time, especially since no open public meetings are allowed,” says The Green Connection’s Liziwe McDaid
According to McDaid, “Millions of South Africans could potentially be affected by the decisions taken by TEPSA and the government. Talking to a handful of people cannot be considered, by any stretch, to equal meaningful public participation. We understand that the lockdown has made things more complicated, but that does not mean that proper processes do not have to be followed. These actions could have far-reaching and long-lasting impacts, and should therefore, not be rushed.”
In a letter to SLR, PetroleumSA and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, The Green Connection points out that the Draft Scoping Report – a complex and information-heavy document –needs more time for comment. “The stakes are very high for the potentially-affected environment, and the project, which is already quite controversial, requires expert input, which will take time.
In addition to the unreasonable timelines, there have also been other issues. This includes the use of commercial newspapers and digital access to information, rather than using media – such as radio advertisements, local notices and hard copies of the EIA documentation in public spaces – that are more accessible to the affected communities.
“It seems that no efforts have been made to notify or provide information to historically disadvantaged communities and subsistence fishers living along the affected coastline. Yet, these are the people who would mostly be affected by any catastrophic incident, such as a wellhead blowout.
McDaid says that The Green Connection seeks a postponement of the entire EIA process, at least until the lockdown restrictions are lifted, or until such time as effective notice and meaningful opportunities for public participation are afforded to historically disadvantaged communities and subsistence fishers living along the Southern Cape coast.
TOTAL E&P SA is one of several oil and gas companies with a keen interest to tap into SA’s marine offshore oil and gas reserves. A scoping application to extend their current exploratory activities to drill 10 more deep wells is currently out for public comment. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdown restrictions in place, the process is going ahead excluding the participation of those without access to the internet.
Given the increased risks of oil spills and leaks associated with deep drilling and the long-term impacts of fossil fuel emissions contributing to global climate change, is it justifiable for marine offshore oil and gas exploration to even take place? The south coast of South Africa experiences some of the roughest sea conditions attributed to the fast-moving Agulhas Current. The many shipwrecks are a testament of this reality.
A recent fire at the TOTAL Formosa Road storage facility at the Durban harbour two days ago puts doubt on the safety of such an undertaking. An accident of this nature could be catastrophic under rough seas and the impact long lasting as was the case in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico 10 years ago where sea conditions are calmer. Is it justifiable to put existing livelihoods such as small-scale and commercial fishing and tourism at risk? Is it justifiable to compound the negative impact on our marine species and ecosystems? Who bares the true cost?
This World Ocean Day, fishing communities from around the country are calling on government to commit to legitimising the sector, as a matter of urgency, to protect the livelihoods of coastal communities who have been dependent on the ocean for generations. While the recent lift in lockdown restrictions on fishers from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fishing (DEFF) is a welcome change, the issues experienced by South Africa’s small-scale fishers during this period, exposed a number of serious threats to their way of life.
According to Liziwe McDaid from the Green Connection – a NGO working with coastal communities to further empower them to protect our oceans, as part of its new Ocean Protection Campaign Who Stole Our Oceans? – fisher communities in Langebaan in the Western Cape and in Port St. Johns and Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape all experienced a host of challenges during the lockdown. This included being harassed by the military and police services, even with government permission to fish.
McDaid says, “While our initial focus is on protecting the oceans and raising awareness amongst coastal communities, including rights of small-scale subsistence fishers, from abuses by the Oil and Gas industries, the situation under lockdown was too dire to ignore. In all our conversations with fisher communities around the country, one of the key issues that came up over and over again, was that government took away their independence – that is, their ability to fish, for food or for sale – to make them dependent on insufficient and inconsistent hand-outs.”
Ntsindiso Nongcavu of Coastal Links in Port St Johns says, “To me the ocean means to be free and independent. It feels good that I am able to fish to feed myself and my family. This way I have dignity. I do not have to beg from anyone to put food on the table. And, when we work together as a community, sharing our catches or harvests, then we have a variety of seafood to choose from and everyone eats well. And, if everyone takes responsibility, through fishing we can also improve our local economy.”
“I come from a fishing family,” says Nongcavu. “Our family has been able to thrive, through fishing. While the methods of fishing may have changed over the years, our ability to be independent and live and make a living from the ocean, has not changed. Growing up, I remember, we did not have to buy too many things except what we could not produce those ourselves. That is our way of life, we live by doing things for ourselves, we don’t want to be dependent on others, and we want to live the way we have been and protect this place. We have been reliant on the ocean for many years.”
Phindile Phikani, also from Coastal Links in Port St. Johns says, “The first challenge was being locked-up at home, prohibited from fishing – our livelihood – and being told to wait for government assistance, which never arrives. In the rural areas especially, we are out of reach from government. This lack of support from government has led to other challenges, such as not being able to register our cooperatives. This meant that we could not fish, and many families in our community had to suffer with hunger, because of this.”
In other places like game reserves, fishers are caught no matter the documentation they carry. They are told that they are not permitted to enter due to lockdown. In Port Alfred, the South African Police Services (SAPS) even confiscated some fishers fishing equipment. Even though we asked for support from DEFF, no assistance was received. This only increased our troubles, because people were apprehended while trying to (legally) provide for their families,” adds Phikani.
Solene Smit, a fisherwoman from Langebaan, Chair of the regional branch of Coastal Links says that since small-scale fishers do not belong to a sector, there are no policies in place to govern the sector, and was a key reason that the Covid-19 lockdown was unnecessarily difficult for many local fishermen around the country.
“Imagine the stress for our communities when, with government permission to fish, members of the military abused our people and refused to let them fish. While we did have a session with Minister Barbara Creecy, during this period, far too many of our issues remained unresolved. Not only did they not give us sufficient information, DEFF offered no support to assist with the imminent issues we face,” says Smit.
Smit adds, “Our community did receive a once-off delivery of food parcels handed out during lockdown, while neighbouring towns continued to receive food parcels. What I do not understand is why the government took away our ability to fish, and therefore at least feed our families. Why did they want to make us dependent on handouts?”
Hilda Adams (based in Langebaan) from the umbrella movement, the SA Small Scale Fishers Collective says that local fishing communities were terribly unprepared for the lockdown, and that bureaucratic red tape – which affects much of the lives of our communities – have created even more issues.
“We could fish during lockdown, if you had a permit. But, to get this, fishers needed to travel far and needed to arrange for accommodation, and these places were all closed and people ended up with no permits during this period.”
In the wake of COVID-19, governments are scrambling to stabalise economies driven by fossil fuels. With a sharp drop in demand and price the disruption caused by COVID-19 has made it increasingly difficult to justify going back to the preCOVID-19 normal. An article by Oil Change International tables “Five Reasons Governments Must Act Now to Phase Out Oil and Gas Production“. This is an opportune time for governments to meaningfully commit towards sustainable development.
The 22nd of May marks the International Day of Biological Diversity and this year’s theme is a reminder of what we have always known, “Our solutions are in Nature”. This day was chosen by the UN (United Nations) to create an awareness and increase understanding about issues around biodiversity.
The recent World Bee Day commemoration (20 May 2020) reminded us that without natural pollinators like bees, food security could not be achieved. About 75% of global crop agriculture relies on animal pollination. About 10% of the worlds population depends directly on the ocean for protein and employment.
Biodiversity can be defined as the variety of animal and plant species within an area and the biological processes associated with those species. Given this definition, one can begin to see why it is important to be aware and understand issues around biodiversity, it is that which our livelihoods depend on. Threats to biodiversity pose a threat to human well-being, the environment and the economy in the long term.
According to the UN, approximately 25% of all plant and animal species are under threat of extinction. There are many factors that will increase this number, including but not limited to habitat destruction, pollution, poaching, over exploitation and climate change. In South Africa, the National Biodiversity Assessment 2018 reported that 13% of all assessed species on land and 18% of marine species are threatened.
South Africa is recognised globally as a biodiversity hotspot owing to the high levels of endimism (animals and plants found no where else). The CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) reports that South Africa only covers 2% of the world land surface yet hosts 10% or the world’s plant species, 7% of the world’s reptile, bird and mammal species and 15% of the world’s marine species.
The importance of biodiversity can not be understated. In South Africa, there is a government research institution devoted to creating an awareness and understanding the value of biodiversity and ensuring that it is translated in policy, SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute). Furthermore in 2019, protected area coverage in the ocean increased to 5% from 0.4%, protecting offshore marine species and ecosystems that were not protected before.
The figures show that not all is lost but at risk if the necessary action is not taken to alleviate the pressures on the environment and increase protection. Think about all the benefits that you enjoy daily from the rich biodiversity. How can you do better to alleviate the pressures on our environment and how can you make your voice heard on how it should be better managed in your home, community, province or country for future generations to enjoy?
Recorded as the worst oil spill in U.S. history, exactly then years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster along the gulf of Mexico resulted in loss of human life (11 people) and environmental degradation on a monumental scale. Oceana compiled a report detailing the economic impacts on tourism, fishing and ultimately other jobs directly linked to incomes generated from these industries. Millions of marine animals killed and the environment heavily polluted, it will take decades for the environment to fully recover. The report also exposes inadequate mitigation measures and plans BP had in case such an event were to occur. The report further details responses by BP and government in dealing with this event, and the continued impact the spill has. Oil exploration continues even with the grave danger it poses. There is strong opposition against this move and a strong call to action to protect the oceans by all role player especially the Trump administration. For the full report go to: https://usa.oceana.org/publications/reports/hindsight-2020-lessons-we-cannot-ignore-bp-disaster
A celebratory World Oceans Day event, hosted by WILDOCEANS and the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), was held at uShaka Marine Worlds’ Aquarium on the evening of the 8th of June.
Today – almost exactly a year to the day since winning the nuclear court case – the two women who were the driving force behind the victory, were awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Foundation’s Prize in San Francisco, USA. Just a few hours ago, Earthlife Africa-Johannesburg’s (ELA-JHB) Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid from the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) joined the winners from five other continents as they were applauded for their efforts to successfully mobilise South Africans against the government’s secret R1-trillion nuclear deal.
Christy Bragg, a Green Connection colleague who has worked with Liz since 2005, says, “Liz and Makomo are visionary women, and epitomize South African grit and passion. Liz has been a mentor for me since I was a young, uneducated-but-qualified scientist. She is a bigger-picture thinker, an influencer and believes deeply in hearing the voice of civil society. This prize is well-deserved recognition for a lifetime of diligent, empathetic and perservering leadership, where many others would have swayed from the path. They, amongst others, have shown us the possibilities for South Africa to be known as a world leader in sustainable solutions if it could be the country where the people are valued and heard.”
Liz McDaid was observing a collection of plastic pollution gathered from local ocean and coast. The Green Connection works with small scale fisheries and The Responsible Fisheries Alliance coordinated by WWF-SA. ‘Reducing plastic pollution is critical for the sustainability of fisheries”, said Liz McDaid.
The Green Connection was asked to assist with training the trainers in the IOISA initiative to assist the Department of Fisheries in supporting the new small scale policy roll out. During 2017, various workshops were carried out around the coast.