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Amadiba Crisis Committee: N2 Wild Coast highway ‘has become fertile ground for intimidation and violence’

The Amadiba community during one of their meetings about the N2 Highway in October 2020. (Photo: Nonhle Mbuthuma)

As the stand-off between the South African National Roads Agency and the Amadiba communities continues over the proposed route of the N2 Wild Coast highway, Sanral has insisted that it is impossible to move the road 10km inland to settle the dispute.

“If there was a better route then environmental affairs would have approved that route and Sanral would be building that route,” Sanral project manager Craig Maclachlan said over the proposed N2 Wild Coast road that has caused tensions to flare in Amadiba communities along the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast.

Nonhle Mbuthuma, spokesperson for the Amadiba Crisis Committee, the organisation representing the communities, said it was demanding that the road be moved 10km inland to prevent coastal villages from being cut up by the highway. She said the proposed construction had brought great instability and tension.

Last week Mbuthuma received a threat that she “would be next”. The message referred to the death of the previous chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, Bazooka Radebe, who was gunned down at his house in 2016 and the death of Sibusiso Mqadi in hospital earlier in November 2020.

She said the police were investigating the threat.

“Encouraged by the pressure from Sanral, certain elements are looking forward to selling land for money as fast as possible instead of using it for agriculture. This is the background to the threats,” Mbuthuma said.

“The N2 committee of Amadiba was established after a joint Amadiba imbizo at Umgungundlovu Komkhulu in Xolobeni on 23 January. Sanral was present, failing again to get access agreements from Mdatya and Sigidi villages. The imbizo demanded from Sanral to stop all works until the whole of Amadiba has decided where the N2 can be built,” she explained.

She said that instead of recognising that the community should decide where the road must run, Sanral “continues to distort reality.” 

“This creates a fertile ground for intimidation and violence. There was no agreement reached on the history of the N2 saga at two meetings with Sanral. The committee established after the imbizo does not have any mandate ‘to assist [Sanral] in resolving misunderstandings pertaining to the N2 Wild Coast Road by a small group of residents,’ ” Mbuthuma said.

She said they had been given a mandate by the community to deal with two issues: First to have the N2 highway moved to a minimum of 10km from the coast so that “agriculture, tourist-friendly and… precious environment, and the way of living in the coastal villages [are] not destroyed by an 80m-wide and fenced highway, cutting the villages in two parts 3km from the coast.”

The second issue, Mbuthuma said, was for Sanral to respect the Environmental Authorisation for the N2 and present and consult with the communities about a relocation action plan that safeguards the interests of all homesteads after a route through Amadiba has been agreed to by the affected communities.

She said they were also looking for an undertaking of 30% local jobs and procurement that would go to the Amadiba, including using the local quarry inland in the region.

“When Sanral reneged from its job undertakings required in the record of decision, the building of the Mtentu bridge was blocked by the Jama village in October 2018,” Mbuthuma said.

She said they did not believe denials by Sanral that the present location of the proposed road had anything to do with plans for mining in the area.

“Our community won the right to see the mining application. Of course, it pointed to N2 on the coast as the most profitable way to bring out the minerals. That is why the same group of people and mining directors that support mining is cooperating hand in hand with Sanral to disrupt community decisions and structures,” she said.

“If Sanral is seriously taking part in the recovery of the economy, they must not destroy our local economy and the land for agriculture and eco-tourism that exist on the coast, in order to ‘uplift’ the national economy, which seems to belong to the corporations,” Mbuthuma said. “This down-approach to development must fall.”

The extension of the N2 along the Wild Coast was identified in 1978 by the then Department of Works and Energy of the former Transkei Homeland. HHO Africa was appointed to investigate a more direct route between Lusikisiki and Mzamba.

The next year, HHO identified two possible routes for the road, one along the coast and another inland. The next seven years saw the production of several reports on the so-called “red route” that would have taken the N2 inland and away from the coastal villages.

McLachlan, the manager for Sanral’s N2 Wild Coast project, said they had noted the death threats against Mbuthuma “with great concern and rejected reports that the agency is party to causing tensions on the Wild Coast in Eastern Cape province”.

The coastal route was also included in the South African National Department of Transport’s Primary Road Network Plan between 1980 and 1990.

In 2000, the red route was also identified for possible development by the N2 Wild Coast Consortium. But after a three-year environmental assessment investigation between 2001 and 2003, approval of the proposed red route was overturned by the minister of environmental affairs due to a potential conflict of interest.

A new environmental impact assessment was undertaken in 2007 and 2009 and in 2010, a record of decision was granted by the department of environmental affairs and upheld on appeal by the minister for the development of the red route.

In 2011, Sanral began upgrading existing portions of the route between East London and Mthatha and between Mthatha and Port St Johns.

The Amadiba Tribal Authority and several of the affected communities launched a legal challenge against this record of decision in 2013. In 2015, the Amadiba Traditional Authority and Chief Baleni and the communities from Mdatya and Sigidi withdrew their legal cases.

The Record of Decision was again confirmed by the Pretoria High Court in 2019, but a case to challenge the matter is pending before the Supreme Court of Appeal.

McLachlan, the manager for Sanral’s N2 Wild Coast project, said they had noted the death threats against Mbuthuma “with great concern and rejected reports that the agency is party to causing tensions on the Wild Coast in Eastern Cape province”.

“Sanral is focused on construction of the N2 Wild Coast Road as part of the national government’s strategic infrastructure projects and conducts all its activities in line with the country’s laws. Sanral takes these allegations very seriously and wants to make clear that the roads agency has not and will never participate in illegal activities. On the contrary, Sanral’s activities are guided by good governance and transparency. Open communication and public participation with all communities have been at the core of Sanral’s ongoing endeavour to build the multibillion-rand N2 Wild Coast Road.

McLachlan said that during meetings with the community Sanral had pointed out that the route for the road was identified in 1979 and was included in network planning in the 1980s, long before minerals were discovered in Xolobeni. 

“It was agreed with all stakeholders at the meeting that the planning of the N2 Wild Coast Road project long predated the discovery of the minerals in Xolobeni by more than a decade. These facts are evidence that the N2 Wild Coast Road is not being built to allow easier access to the proposed Xolobeni mine. Sanral is not involved in mining and the road is not being built to facilitate mining activities in the area.

“It is also important to note that sections of the N2 Wild Coast Road have been under construction since 2011. The project entails the upgrading and construction of a 410km stretch of road from East London to the Mtamvuna River on the border of the Eastern Cape and the KwaZulu-Natal provinces. The new route will shorten the current distance by 85km in comparison to the current route, delivering a travel time saving of between one-and-a-half to three hours for road-users once it is completed, and saving the economy R1.5-billion annually,” McLachlan said.

“The issue of moving the road 10km inland was discussed in detail… It was explained and agreed by the committee that the Inland Mzamba and Coastal Mzamba alternatives had been looked at during the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process. The Inland Mzamaba route was found non-feasible while the Coastal Mzamaba had slightly higher social, environmental and economic impacts and so was not approved by the Department of Environmental Affairs (the Coastal Mzamba route would miss the Mdatya village, but would have a far greater impact on the Sigidi village than the approved route). If there was a better route, then environmental affairs would have approved that route and Sanral would be building that route.

“Sanral explained and it was accepted by the committee that the environmental authorisation is limited to the approved corridor. This approval allows minor local deviations during design but does not allow Sanral to shift several kilometres away from the approved corridor. The committee also accepted that to reopen the environmental impact assessment process to relook at an inland route would delay the project by several years and would be unlikely to come to a different conclusion.

“Sanral has learnt that the Amadiba Crisis Committee is still trying to push for an alternate inland route located somewhere between the Inland Mzamba and Coastal Mzamba route. Because of the Mzamba Gorge and Umgungundlovu and Mzamba village settlements, there is no alternate route without building another mega-bridge larger than the Msikaba bridge, and without having to displace several hundred families. This is clearly not feasible,” McLachlan said.

He said relocation plans were presented and discussed with the Jama and Baleni communities who live close to the Mtentu bridge where Sanral had completed the land acquisition process.

“For all of the remaining communities the land acquisition process has not yet been started and therefore the relocation plans have not yet been presented to the various affected communities. Typically, land acquisition can only be done once the preliminary design is complete so that the exact footprint of the road can be finalised. Then a regulated process is followed in terms of the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Use Act led by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform,” said McLachlan.

“Both the affected communities and the individual affected families are engaged. However, Sanral have been unable to proceed to this stage in the rest of the Amadiba area due to both the lack of signed access agreements from the Sigidi and Mdatya communities as well as delays caused by the Covid lockdown and unfortunately also due to certain stakeholders delaying, disrupting or preventing such meetings.

“In the Amadiba Stakeholder Committee meeting of 7 October Sanral agreed to address any community meeting organised by the Amadiba Traditional Council and Mbizana Local Municipality to address any and all concerns and issues including the relocation plans and alternative inland routes,” McLachlan said. DM/MC.

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