Wild Coast N2 fight re­sumes

The af­fected com­mu­nity says the N2 will dev­as­tate peo­ple’s way of life


THE peo­ple of Um­gun­gundlovu, some­times called Xolobeni after one of the five vil­lages in the area, won a water­shed land rights vic­tory on Novem­ber 22 when the North Gaut­eng High Court ruled that cus­tom­ary land can­not be mined with­out the com­mu­nity’s con­sent.

But com­mu­nity mem­bers are adamant that their vic­tory against the Aus­tralian min­ing com­pany, Transworld En­ergy and Min­eral Re­sources, and the Min­eral Re­sources Depart­ment, is not the end of their fight to re­tain con­trol over the land on which they’ve lived for cen­turies.

Rusty-coloured, ti­ta­nium-rich dunes, which Transworld had long sought to strip, emerge from the rolling hills sur­round­ing the Komkhulu (Great Place) of Um­gun­gundlovu. On the morn­ing of Novem­ber 20, two days be­fore the com­mu­nity’s land­mark court vic­tory, Mbizana Mayor Daniswa Ma­fum­batha was slated to speak at the Komkhulu about the N2 Wild Coast toll road at a meet­ing she had re­quested.


Some com­mu­ni­ties in Mpon­doland have been con­vinced of the ben­e­fits of the N2, one of the 18 strate­gic in­te­grated pro­jects the gov­ern­ment says will boost eco­nomic devel­op­ment and ser­vices in South Africa’s most im­pov­er­ished re­gions. But many re­main res­o­lute against the high­way run­ning through their land. In Um­gun­gundlovu, the com­mu­nity has long ar­gued that the toll road is be­ing built to fa­cil­i­tate the ti­ta­nium min­ing they have fought against in court.

The more than 100 com­mu­nity mem­bers who ar­rived at the Komkhulu, some of whom walked up to 15 kilo­me­tres to hear the mayor speak, were left dis­ap­pointed when she failed to show up.

Thokozana Mthwa (57), one of the Um­gun­gundlovu farm­ers who at­tended the meet­ing, said that she planned to tell the mayor that the N2, which she says will have dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on her fam­ily for gen­er­a­tions, will “not come here”. Mthwa wor­ries that the fields she ploughs will be carved apart by the high­way and her fam­ily’s live­stock will be killed.

Um­gun­gundlovu has a long his­tory of re­sis­tance to ex­ter­nally im­posed de­ci­sions on land.

Dur­ing the Mpondo re­volts, be­tween 1950 and 1962, rebels used caves set among the cliffs along the nearby Mnya­meni River as hid­ing spots dur­ing their re­sis­tance against apartheid-era “bet­ter­ment” schemes.

Many peo­ple from Um­gun­gundlovu par­tic­i­pated in the re­volt to ward off the regime’s dis­place­ment of com­mu­ni­ties and the culling of their cat­tle.

The re­volt was re­called through­out the com­mu­nity meet­ing, which was held in Ma­fum­batha’s ab­sence. At one point, a man seated at the back of the meet­ing stood up and called out: “Our great-great­grand­fa­thers died for this land. It is bet­ter that we all die fight­ing!”


Com­mu­nity re­sis­tance against the N2 will now be tested in the North Gaut­eng High Court.

On Mon­day, the court heard an ap­pli­ca­tion to re­view and set aside the de­ci­sions of first the deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral and later the min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs to grant na­tional roads agency San­ral the en­vi­ron­men­tal au­tho­ri­sa­tion re­quired to build the high­way.

Ac­cord­ing to the ap­pli­ca­tion, made by a num­ber of coastal Amadiba res­i­dents and com­mu­ni­ties, the N2 “will run through the mid­dle of their com­mu­ni­ties, di­vid­ing them in two as ef­fec­tively as a wall”. The ap­pli­ca­tion ar­gues that numer­ous pro­ce­dural er­rors were made when the en­vi­ron­men­tal au­tho­ri­sa­tion was granted. It also con­tends that pos­si­ble al­ter­na­tive routes for the high­way (some coastal com­mu­ni­ties want the road to be built fur­ther in­land) were not prop­erly con­sid­ered. The fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits of the pro­posed route, for in­stance, are yet to be proven con­clu­sively.

The costs of two mega-bridges over the Mtentu and Msik­aba rivers are in­cluded in the bud­gets for San­ral’s pre­ferred route, but the costs of var­i­ous smaller bridges that would need to be built, in­clud­ing one over the Mzamba River, are over­looked.

But the costs of the Mzamba bridge, and oth­ers, are in­cluded in es­ti­mates of what an in­land route — as pro­posed by Um­gun­gundlovu’s coastal com­mu­ni­ties — would cost, thereby in­flat­ing the pro­posed costs of an in­land route when com­pared with San­ral’s coastal pref­er­ence.


Ac­cord­ing to Nonhle Mbuthuma, a founder of the Amadiba Cri­sis Com­mit­tee, who hails from Sigidi, which is one of the com­mu­nity ap­pli­cants in the case, the planned route for the high­way poses a threat to till­ing and pas­toral liveli­hoods in Um­gun­gundlovu. She says that these are in­ex­tri­ca­ble from the land. “We have never been sup­ported by any­body. But we have been sup­ported by the land.”

An­other en­dan­gered pil­lar of sup­port is the Um­gun­gundlovu com­mu­nity’s so­cial life, ac­cord­ing to Mbuthuma. “We share ev­ery­thing. If some­one is cry­ing at your neigh­bour, you at­tend. When some­one is sick, you at­tend. You touch one per­son, you touch the whole com­mu­nity here,” she said. But Mbuthuma fears the N2 will cut the com­mu­nity “in two”.

The loom­ing court bat­tle is not the only com­mu­nity-led re­sis­tance faced by San­ral’s N2 project. While Mpon­doland has his­tor­i­cally been a re­serve of cheap black labour for min­eral ex­trac­tion fur­ther north — first on the gold fields of the Wit­wa­ter­srand and later on the plat­inum belt — one amaMpondo com­mu­nity mem­ber says that they have be­come sur­plus to the labour re­quire­ments of a ma­jor de­vel­op­men­tal project in their own back yard.


Con­struc­tion on the Mtentu River megabridge, which be­gan in Jan­uary, has been shut down by peo­ple from the vil­lage of Jama since Novem­ber 1. The com­mu­nity mem­bers con­tend, among other things, that San­ral has bro­ken prom­ises re­gard­ing the lo­cal jobs the bridge would cre­ate.

In ini­tial ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween San­ral and the con­trac­tors bid­ding for the Mtentu Bridge ten­der, con­trac­tors had com­mit­ted to spend­ing at least 30% of the project funds on sub­con­trac­tors from lo­cal small, medium and mi­cro en­ter­prises. But this fig­ure was re­vised down to seven per­cent dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion in Au­gust to up­date stake­hold­ers on progress made. The orig­i­nal 30% tar­get was deemed “not fea­si­ble to achieve”.

The R1,6 bil­lion ten­der awarded for the bridge’s con­struc­tion even­tu­ally went to a joint ven­ture in­clud­ing the Aus­trian firm Stra­bag, in part be­cause noth­ing like it has been built in the coun­try. The scale of the bridge, which will be propped up by can­tilevers over the river’s lush indige­nous ravine, is un­prece­dented in South Africa.

The other party in the joint ven­ture is fi­nan­cially trou­bled SA con­struc­tion gi­ant Aveng Gri­naker. Aveng Gri­naker/ Stra­bag were given 40 months to com­plete the Mtentu Bridge, which means the on­go­ing Jama shut­down has now cost San­ral close to R40 mil­lion.

— New Frame.

• Den­nis Web­ster has a re­search back­ground in labour, land and hous­ing. He writes about cities, farm work and pop­u­lar pol­i­tics in the coun­try­side.


Um­gun­gundlovu com­mu­nity mem­bers make their way to the Komkhulu for a meet­ing that was sup­posed to in­clude the mayor, who can­celled at the last minute.

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