OUR BURNING PLANET
Sparks fly at meeting with rural community over proposed N2 Wild Coast toll road
A meeting to hear the views of a rural Eastern Cape community about a planned toll road through their area deteriorated into a battle between some residents and police, who resorted to stun grenades.
Plans to better link KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape via a toll road along the N2 that runs through the Wild Coast continue to sow division among the community of a rural Amadiba village. The provincial government says it is consulting, but others believe it is not making an effort to hear all of those affected.
On Friday, September 10, scores of Eastern Cape people turned out to participate in a meeting between the Eastern Cape MEC for Public Works, Babalo Madikizela, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) and the community of Sigidi and surrounding areas near Sigidi Senior Primary School near Port Edward.
The meeting came after a long battle between Sanral and some in the community over the construction of the road, which some fear is simply a cover to establish titanium mining into the area.
While several hundred people turned up to attend the meeting, less than 30 people participated after Madikizela ordered that only stakeholders representing the community would be heard. The tense meeting, expected to start at 10am, only began after 2pm after a stand-off between some community members and police. Police officers ended up throwing stun grenades to disperse the crowd as fights broke out between various people.
The toll road is expected to cut through Sigidi, with a suspension bridge built metres away from the current footbridge that people use to get to the Wild Coast Sun near Port Edward. Community members told Daily Maverick that while moves to mine titanium in the area were halted after the community organisation Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) took the matter to the Pretoria High Court and got a ruling in its favour in 2018, local residents remain on high alert.
They are worried that the construction of the N2 is aimed at paving the way for titanium mining. They believe this will result in them losing their land and that their health will be negatively affected. Among other concerns is the prospect that the N2 toll road will result in a “smart city” being built.
Speaking prior to the meeting, Madikizela denied that construction of the N2 had anything to do with mining or a smart city with malls and other large buildings. He said the road was an opportunity to link KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape by making travelling between the provinces easier. He said a smart city was planned at Port St Johns, which would also see a harbour built.
The community remains divided on the N2, with some seeing job creation and others seeing mining destroying their traditional way of life.
At the meeting, Zeka Mnyamane of the Madiba Trust said he believed construction of the road would be positive for the transportation of goods and making it easier for local people to move around. His family is one of those likely to be directly affected by the construction.
“Our family’s graves and home will be affected because we will have to be moved when the road is built, but we still want the road. We know that there will be job opportunities during the construction. Once the construction is completed it will be easy for us to travel. The road that we have been using is too small,” said Mnyamane.
He added that local farmers would benefit as the N2 would make it easy for them to transport their goods.
Thanduxolo Mbhele, chairperson of the Active Citizenship Organisation, who also claimed his family would be affected, said he was happy with the road plans. He said his organisation had held meetings with youth in the area and they had unanimously agreed on the benefits for everyone in the area.
Also speaking to Daily Maverick before the meeting, Nolungile Mditshwa from Xolobeni said she and her community were not happy with how consultations had been carried out. She said they had asked for consultations to be held at the Komkhulu (traditional meeting place) in Mgungundlovu but this had not happened. She said matters relating to land and community should be discussed at the Komkhulu, “not in a common open space”.
Members of her group had informed the government they would like the road to be moved to another area, away from their homes.
“We believe the road is an opportunity for them to introduce the mine. We’ve informed them many times that we do not want any mining activity in our village. Mining will disrupt our way of life since we are people who rely on farming and growing crops. We feed our families,” she said.
The mother of eight children of school-going age has at least 10 cows and grows crops that she sells to feed her family. Her crops include amadumbe, sweet potatoes and maize.
“If we allow this road, we face the possibility of losing everything that we have,” she added.
Lonwabo Dlamini, 29, from Sigidi said people want the road built away from the coast, further inland. Dlamini, a private tour guide, said a road would affect the scenic attraction of the coastline:
“I’m worried that waterfalls such as Mnyameni and Mtendu might be affected. I’m worried areas that people like visiting might be difficult to get to and some might even be destroyed. This could have a direct effect on my work. We wish Sanral could give us enough information on the project so we can make proper input. Right now Sanral and the government are not giving us enough information.”
Mahlangu Gampe, 47, from Sigidi said he believed the road would provide employment for the youth, but was adamant that people did not want mining in the area: “If our children don’t work they will end up becoming criminals,” he said, adding that more effective consultation was needed.
We need the road. We have been informed that it will provide job opportunities. We need jobs. Our children are hungry, they need employment.
Bawinile Dlamini (50) said people expressing concern about the road should be those who would have to move. “They should speak directly to Sanral and make arrangements about their payment,” said the mother of 10, whose home is not in the path of the N2.
“We need the road. We have been informed that it will provide job opportunities. We need jobs. Our children are hungry, they need employment,” says Dlamini.
Amid the continued opposition to the N2 Wild Coast Toll road, and while not all community members participated in the 10 September meeting, Madikizela has advised Sanral to push ahead with plans to consult those directly affected who would have to move.
Madikizela said numerous meetings had been held with Sanral and people claiming to be representing the community. He said the aim of the Friday meeting was to bring those people together with the community and have them speak to the community present. It was also to hear if their words were echoed by the community.
“The will of the people is what we are here to hear. But we will not hear the will of the people from people who claim to be representing them, we will hear it from the people and the most important people are those who are affected,” he said.
While waiting for police reinforcements to arrive, Madikizela said it was unfortunate that some people had allegedly arrived drunk and that some had caused disruption prior to the meeting. He said the government was concerned about high unemployment in the Amadiba areas.
He then said: “That is why it’s easy to transport people, buy them alcohol and give them bread and tell them what to say.”
The N2 has been a huge bone of contention between Sanral, some community members and the Amadiba Crisis Committee, whose spokesperson, Nonhle Mbuthuma, said the next step might be to take the matter to court. Mbuthuma said it was not fair to say the only people affected would be those who stood to be moved:
“We know that when this road is built the issue of the mine will then surface and there will be plans for mining to start. This will affect our community. Besides the mine, the road itself threatens the livelihoods of our people. Tourism will suffer. You can’t tell me that people can enjoy our sites on a road where they are driving at 120 kilometres an hour. We are all going to be affected and deserve to be fairly consulted.”
She said promises of employment are made to people at the expense of them losing their land, health and livelihoods and that most times such promises are never met. It wasn’t only local communities who were unhappy; others, such as those in Lusikisiki, had expressed concern. She did agree that people from other communities had been transported to the venue and arrived drunk, which is what led to the disruptions.
Mbuthuma was not moved by the decision made on Friday as it was made by business interests and the ACC would challenge it:
“The meeting was a follow up to another meeting with stakeholders where it was decided that the next move would be to get the views of the community. That did not happen,” she explained.
Johan Lorenzen, an associate at Richard Spoor Attorneys, representing the ACC, said he understood that Sanral and Madikizela might believe Friday’s interaction with the stakeholders allowed them to conduct studies on the land in the area and to speak directly with individuals. This seemed an odd belief considering what occurred.
Lorenzen said the matter might need to go to court if the pair thought convening a meeting with a few people and ignoring the views of the majority constituted a binding decision for the community:
“We will be writing on Monday to the MEC and to Sanral to confirm that it is their view that this is a lawful decision that ‘the six’ becomes a community decision and to ask them to disavow that position that they believe is clearly wrong. If they fail to disavow it, we will challenge it in court,” he continued.
Lorenzen was willing to wait for a response as long as the land of his firm’s clients were not affected by any decisions of both parties.
Project manager on the N2 Wild Coast Toll project, Craig McLachlan, insisted that the road was an extension of the national road network and of economic growth in and between Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
He said it would connect four provinces – Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga:
“The road will have major socio-economic benefits and positively impact local communities. The N2WCR Project was conceived as far back as the late 1970s, long before any plans for a mine were mooted and therefore have nothing to do with any mining-related activities.”
McLachlan agreed that greater interaction was needed with more families that will be directly affected. Two families had already identified themselves and had expressed interest in the road going ahead.
When asked about the next steps after Madikizela’s pronouncements at the meeting, McLachlan replied that normal processes would be followed, including holding meetings to discuss land acquisition, the design of the road and other issues. Surveyors would engage with affected families and this would be followed by negotiations with the families.
He said the resolution of Friday’s meeting was a victory for local stakeholders who have been calling for a separation of the fight against the mining activities and the N2 Wild Coast Road Project. The outcome of the meeting echoed agreements made with other communities in the Amadiba village, he claimed. DM/OBP