oads agency Sanral has been accused of forging villagers’ signatures in an attempt to convince the courts that the planned construction of the N2 Wild Coast toll road, to connect KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, has wide support.
Villagers living along the Wild Coast are opposed to the construction of the highway and have approached the courts in an attempt to stop the project.
They argue that the highway will displace them from their homes, ruin their ancestral lands, desecrate their graves and separate them from their livestock.
In papers filed before the North Gauteng High Court, the villagers have alleged the roads agency forged the signatures of four people who are known opponents of the construction of the highway. They say Sanral has passed them off as people who supported the construction during the consultation process. Sanral has said it would investigate the claims. Nomvelwana Mhlengana is an outspoken opponent of the planned highway. She lives in Sigidi village near Bizana and is one of those whose signatures were said to have been forged by Sanral, to falsely pledge her support for the project.
The villagers have enlisted the services of Cape Town law firm, Cullinan and Associates, to fight their case in court.
It will be heard in the North Gauteng High Court on October 6.
In the court papers, which contain signed affidavits by various members of the communities, Nonhle Mbuthuma of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) – which is fighting not only the proposed N2 highway, but also the plans to mine titanium in the red dunes of Xolobeni near Bizana – is adamant that Sanral lied under oath in a bid to push ahead with the construction of the highway.
“The people who live under the jurisdiction of the local municipality have attempted to hold Sanral accountable for putting false evidence before this court,” said Mbuthuma.
“They were attempting to show that members of Sigidi and Mdatya were in favour of the proposed toll road and against the litigation to stop it.”
She also wants Sanral official Mongezi Noah – who is a community development specialist – to explain why he claimed in his affidavit that he had seen Mhlengana signing one of the disputed documents. She “vehemently denies” ever doing so, said Mbuthuma. The communities living on the Wild Coast are “overwhelmingly opposed” to the highway development, she added.
Lawyer Patrick Cullinan also claims in the founding affidavit that Sanral CEO Nazir Alli was not truthful when he said villagers had expressed support for the project in consultative meetings at the local Sigidi Primary School and Mdatya Secondary School.
“[ACC member] Mzamo Dlamini attended both meetings and says in his affidavit that this statement by Mr Alli is completely untrue,” said Cullinan.
He said his clients had limited financial resources and could only litigate because his firm was willing to act for substantially reduced fees. Various donors had also provided funding.
“Sanral is well aware of the widespread opposition to the proposed Wild Coast toll road among the affected communities. This interlocutory application, supported as it is with forged affidavits, is a cynical attempt to deny these communities their constitutional rights of access to justice, administrative justice and to protect environments in which they live,” said Cullinan.
Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona said the roads agency viewed the allegations of fraud seriously and would conduct a full investigation.
“The circumstances around fraud allegations relating to statements that Sanral submitted in court about the proposed N2 Wild Coast toll route are under investigation.
“Sanral believes it has done nothing wrong and views all allegations of fraud in a very serious light,” said Mona.
“We are confident that any issues surrounding the allegations will be cleared up as soon as investigations and legal processes have been completed.”
Mona also said while the relocation of people and property was inevitable in projects of this magnitude, Sanral would tread carefully on the matter.
“Any relocation will follow a fully consultative process with affected communities and individuals.
“It is recognised that a prerequisite to relocation is the availability of suitable, alternative land and housing and no relocations will be done without community and individual agreement,” he said.