The Eastern Cape High Court in Makhanda is set to hear an application brought by environmental rights groups against plans by multinational petroleum company Shell to conduct a 3D seismic survey off the Wild Coast. 

Shell's announcement has sparked widespread criticism with strong concern raised on the impact of such an operation on the environment and the people living along the coast.

Mukurukuru Media editor Lucas Ledwaba asked Nonhle Mbuthuma who leads the Amadiba Crisis Committee, an organisation that represents communities along the coast about the latest developments.

Lucas Ledwaba:  Thank you Nonhle. Can you kindly tell us about the recent protest in Amadiba? What is it all about?

Nonhle Mbuthuma: We heard that Shell is going to drill and blast our ocean because they discovered oil and the community [is] voicing out their concern, because this survey for sure, there was no consultation, not even one meeting in our communities. Now, we just want to tell our government that they can't just grant a permit to Shell to blast the ocean or to mine the ocean without consulting the directly affected and the interested, because that's part of the law. The ocean is not only for the people that are living on the coast, but it's for everybody.

Lucas Ledwaba: Your area has been the subject of a number of interests, development of a highway, mining. Why do you think there's such interest on the wild coast area?

Nonhle Mbuthuma: And yeah, there's so much mega projects that have been planned by the government and all of them are focusing on the Wild Coast in Pondoland. As I stated before, you know, fighting against the titanium [mining] by the Australian company, now they are planning to build the highway. And while we still fighting the highway, because also the highway is going to destroy our livelihood. It's not that we are anti-road, we are for  road, but we need the access roads, not the highway. The highway is not going to solve our problems. And also recently, we just heard that the president of South Africa, [Cyril] Ramaphosa is planning to build a smart city along the coast. It's another major, major project. Also, while we are still shocked by the smart city because there was no consultation again, it was just only the deal between the President and then traditional leadership as usual. Now, we just heard that they're planning to mine, also the ocean, which is part of our livelihood as well. And we understand that government is trying to fix the crisis [in the] economy that we are sitting on right now. But they cannot compromise our livelihood, our livelihood always comes first. But these mega projects are going to make more [people] unemployed because as I mentioned, with the smart city, there is no jobs for people, but it's only for the elite, where they come to enrich themselves. Also, the mining on the ocean, there's no jobs for our local community. It's only for the rich, that they can continue making themselves more richer. These projects are not for our local people. Those fishermen [that rely on the ocean] are going to be unemployed if the license is given a go ahead.
Fisherman Anele Matiwane was not aware of a planned protest against Shell’s plans to explore for oil along the Wild Coast. He has been fishing all his life along the coast and fears that exploration could negatively affect his fishing business. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media
Lucas Ledwaba: You are taking legal action with regards to this. Can you kindly elaborate on that? 

Nonhle Mbuthuma: We have already lodged the papers in court to say that government and DMR (Department of Minerals and Energy) cannot just grant the permit for Shell to survey on the ocean without [approval from the] Department of Environmental Affairs. Because when it comes to the environmental impact the only department whose responsibility is to make sure that they mitigate the environmental impact when they do development, is the Department of Environmental Affairs. Now, we find out that there is no environmental authorisation that they have because the permit is only coming from the Department of Minerals and Energy, which is unlawful to do so because according to our environmental laws, which is National Environmental Management Plan, it's stated clearly that before you start any development, you need environmental authorisation and the question that we have, how come the government allows Shell to go and survey without environmental authorisation? Because it's stated clearly to us that as citizens of South Africa, we must be worried, how can we be sure that the environment is going to be safe? We need that report to see clearly how Shell is going to mitigate the impact on the environment. 

Lucas Ledwaba: The Department of Environmental Affairs has said that due to the One Environment System the permit has to come from the Department of Minerals and Energy. Now the question is, was there any consultation with the community from DMR? Are you aware of any surveys that were undertaken? Like, for instance, the issue of the fisherman, ocean economy, how this going to impact on people, were you [as community members] consulted at all?

Nonhle Mbuthuma: Not even once were we ever consulted. The only thing we've heard, it was like early 2014 [there] was the consultation between the department of minerals and the traditional leaders, and we don't understand why government is always using a shortcut when it comes to consulting people. They think when they consult the traditional leaders, they consult the people.  Like right now, the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act  which President Ramaphosa has already signed, whereas the communities are against that law, because that law is a Bantustan law, and we cannot bring that law in a democratic system. Now, it takes us 10 steps backwards. But now you can see how the government when there is development, they always use the traditional leadership. It takes us back because this is the law that's been used to take the land away from the community. Now, if our government allows that kind of law, that means a we have a problem in our country. That is why we said right now, government cannot consult the traditional leaders and think that is a done deal. We need to be consulted. And beside, consultation alone is not enough because we are the citizens and we are the land owners, we need to give a consent, where we are going to say that this is good or this is bad.

What the government says: "The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment has noted concerns about the seismic surveys to be conducted by Shell and Impact Africa Limited off the coast of South Africa between December and February 2022.

The impact of the seismic survey to be undertaken by Shell and Impact Africa has been authorised under the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 2002 (Act No. 28 of 2002), (MRPDA) which under section 39(2) of the Act requires the submission of an environmental management plan which is to assess and evaluate the environmental impacts of the activity.

The Minister of Minerals Resources and Energy is the Minister responsible for the administration of the MPRDA, the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is, therefore, not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.

It should be noted that since the coming into effect of the One Environment System on 8 December 2014, the application process for the seismic surveys was finalised. All decisions made under the MPRDA at the time remain valid and binding until set aside by a court of law."

What Shell says: “Shell is planning a 3D seismic survey off the Wild Coast to explore potential hydrocarbon reserves beneath the seabed. South Africa is currently highly reliant on energy imports for many of its energy needs. Should viable resources be found offshore, this could significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security and the government’s economic development programmes. 
“Shell is a responsible and leading operator and applies stringent controls and international best practice guidelines to its operations. Procedures for managing impact from seismic activities are well established and in line with the latest global industry standards. Shell also contributes to joint industry programmes, including the Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Programme, which is at the forefront of leading research for sound in the marine environment. We aim to minimise the impact of our projects on the environment and to be a good neighbour wherever we work, by contributing to the well-being of neighbouring communities. We work closely with them to manage the social impacts of our business activities, address any concerns about our operations, and enhance the benefits that we are able to bring. As an organisation Shell is committed to protecting the environment. A full environmental study was conducted in line with regulatory requirements and a legal permit was obtained to carry out the activity. Shell is committed to fully implement all the mitigation measures as approved by the regulatory authorities and will operate according to international guidelines.”

further reading: 
Wild Coast anti-mining activist Nonhle Mbuthuma: ‘They must kill me alone, not with my family’
https://www.news24.com/citypress/news/we-will-not-give-up-tension-rises-as-xolobeni-community-vows-to-fight-mining-20190409 contact us on news@mukurukuru.co.za

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