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Sparks fly at meeting with rural community over proposed N2 Wild Coast toll road

Plans to connect KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape through the N2 Wild Coast toll road continue to sow divisions in the rural Amadiba village. (Photo: Thembela Ntongana / GroundUp)
By Lungi Langa
13 Sep 2021 24

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

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All Comments 24

  • The Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) and their lawyers have no legal or ethical right to claim or even imply they speak on behalf of any community within the Amadiba Traditional Area. While the Amadiba Crisis Committee provided the locus standi for some very important Con-Court judgements regarding the rights of all communities affected by mining, their views and legal mandates are only truly representative of a small percentage of the 50 000 person/10 000 households that make up the Amadiba tribe.

    Over the years the ACC leadership has very successfully manipulated their supporters, the media and through them the court of public opinion by utilising the illusory truth principle that if people hear something repeated they tend to believe it to be true even if there is little or no evidence. Any person who has opposing views is labelled a corrupt henchman of the mining company. Inconvenient and contrary facts are ignored or denied in any communications.

    The reality on the ground is actually very complex and fluid and as we saw on Friday ACC members are just as capable of violence and intimidation as the pro-development supporters. Rather than allowing rational discussion and sharing of information the ACC whips up polarising emotions and tries to dominate public meetings where they can by bussing in supporters, tries to disrupt or prevent meetings where they can’t and when they fail, they label meetings as illegitimate. This is extremely unfortunate.

    • You sound as if you’re part of the road development and construction team.

      That part of the world has little commercial interest impact beyond subsistence farming. What is attractive is the estimated concentration of titanium – principally in the beaches and surrounding areas. As we all know, Titanium dioxide accounts for 95% of Titanium commercial use, and that goes into paints, paper, toothpaste, and plastics due to its intense white pigmentation.

      The people who are arguing that the N2 project will simply bring in the miners are, in my opinion, 100% correct. The jobs that the road and the mining will bring to the area are not long term jobs – I don’t believe there is more than 10 years life of mine in any Titanium extraction site down there, and once the road is constructed, a few cashiers might be needed for the tolls, but the maintenance will be part of the Sanral national network of contractors and suppliers. Very little will be contributed by the local populations.

      I have a lot of sympathy with little people who stand in the way of greedy mining behemoths hell bent on exploitation – which is NOT development.

      • Macleod – in addition to my response to Rob below that is also applicable to your comments I can add that in addition to the huge tourism potential of the area there is realistic agricultural potential as well. The area enjoys a good rainfall by South Africa standards and there are already several small scale commercial farms as well as the extensive and now well-run Magwa tea plantation that will benefit from the new N2.

        Numerous world bank studies testify to the huge economic return from building high mobility corridors into previous poorly serviced areas. The new road will also vastly reduce freight and transportation time and costs between KZN and the EC benefiting the entire region.

        • Well, Craig, this penetration into underdeveloped areas is not a new argument. I can remember this one being put on the table for KZN’s South coast – the N2 toll road was to bring untold job creation, economic stimulation and the BIG T – tourism.

          Take a drive along the N2 and old coast road through south coast Natal and tell us here what you find – other than economic stagnation, collapsed tourism industry, massive unemployment and collapsing real estate values. The N2 has simply created a spatial bypass.

          Your argument is similar to saying an extension of Pall Mall through Buckingham Palace will increase tourism to parts of London tourists didn’t get to before. Have you ever considered that eco-tourism is fast becoming the more preferred tourist option, and that glitzy beach resorts and highly developed infrastructure do not hold as much appeal for tourists as they did before?

          Sorry, but I’m too old to buy this development stuff – I’ve yet to see it materialise in a positive way.

    • Craig, can you really put your hand on your heart and say that the route of the proposed road has absolutely no connection to plans for mining in the area? Do you really believe that the local people will benefit from a “smart city” in Port St Johns? And what would proper consultation with the 10 000 households look like?

      • Hand on my Heart – Yes. The route approved by the Department of Environmental Affairs’, upheld on appeal and reconfirmed in the Pretoria High Court is the most feasible route amongst very limited options on a balance of economic, social and environmental factors. This approved route was initially identified as the most feasible in 1979, way before the minerals were discovered in the 90’s. The route has to come close to the coast in the Amdiba area to cross the Mzamba gorge at the only realistic bridge site, to avoid displacing hundreds of families between the Mzamba and Mtamvuna rivers and also to line up with the existing Mtamvuna River bridge near Port Edward

        If a mine is ever given approval (remember it must still go through a full EIA) then sure it will benefit a bit by being closer to a national road but the real beneficiaries on the new road are the numerous communities, small and large businesses, farmers, freight, public transport, tour and hospitality operators and ordinary citizens that get to benefit from a new high speed mobility corridor that will open up access to one of the poorest but most spectacularly beautiful areas of South Africa. Instead of being 5.5 hours drive from Durban, Port St Johns will be less than 3.5 hours drive once the new road is open. This road will make the entire Pondoland coast an attractive weekend destination from KZN and holiday destination for the rest of SA with multiple eco- adventure- and conventional tourism attractions.

        • I note your assurance that a previous study determined that the current proposed route for the toll road is the only feasible one. I am sceptical. What were the terms of reference of the study? Were ALL routes that bypassed Kokstad considered? Was there a genuine comparison between a new road and upgrading the existing road?

          You mention “the huge economic return from building high mobility corridors”. There is already a mobility corridor – the N2 through Kokstad. I can only presume that the proposed road will lead to huge negative economic returns for this corridor.

          The (hopefully) aborted attempt to get approval to toll Durban commuters at Isipingo to pay for the road indicates that that the economic justification for the road is highly questionable.

          • You can access the entire EIA study including all the independent peer review specialist studies on the SANRAL website online: n2-wildcoast-toll-road/.
            The new road will be substantially shorter, quicker, flatter and safer than the current route that loops far inland and climbs to over 1600m altitude at Brooks Nek. The new road will save the SA economy R 1.5 billion p.a. as well as reducing carbon emissions. While a substantial portion of long distance freight will shift to the new road the existing N2 past Kokstad will still carry several thousand vehicles per day and SANRAL is currently busy upgrading that route as well. While a few fuel stations will see a small drop in sales initially, the economies of the towns along the existing route are not based on through traffic. The economic rationale for the new road is extremely robust.

  • I think this area should be left well alone – why more development? This is the most pristine part of our country, leave it alone and I applaud the communities there that are trying to protect their birthright. Development is not necessarily a good thing. Leave it alone.

    • Colleen. As it appears that I cannot post any links in the comments please go to new24 and search for my Guest column opinion piece titled “Re-emergence of the noble savage? Colonialist myths abound in N2 Wild Coast Toll Road debate” – I trust it may change your perspective.

  • Thanks for the engagement Craig. Since the mid-2000s I’ve been following the story of this road as I travelled regularly between EL and Durban.

    You are correct that the road and the mining are separate projects, but that the plans for this road were dusted off and only gained public momentum under the Mbeki administration when the titanium mining made the economic rationale stronger. At the time, most public investment projects had to present Cabinet with economic rationale so Treasury did not to object to budgets. If it was not for that, Treasury would have likely only accepted the upgrading of the existing N2 rather than build a new road between Port Edward and Lusikisiki. (There are many heavily-used roads in the former Transkei that needs upgrading but because it serves poor communities, the economic rationale remain weak.)

    Thus, in the minds of the public, particularly the various communities, the two projects are linked. I would recommend that SANRAL mobilise the departments of Agriculture and Tourism, and related industry stakeholders, to launch multi-year investment projects in the area to minimize community perceptions that it will only benefit mining, though it will likely never disappear.

    Lastly, it is worth noting that environmental authorisation of the first plans (circa 2003-2004) was rejected as some parts of the road went through highly sensitive areas. SANRAL had to redesign the route and request new EIA approval in 2008-2010 (or thereabouts).

    • Sarel. It is precisely due to the “illusionary truth” principle I mention above about people believing what they hear or read repeated that the public believe the mine and the N2 are linked. And once someone has a conviction then confirmation bias comes into play making it extremely difficult to change (mis)perceptions. Fortunately the EC government is firmly on board and several departments and entities are working on leveraging development opportunities off the N2WCR road.

      The economic rationale for the N2WCR is extremely strong and completely divorced from the proposed mine and whether it ever does or does not start. ( R-billions p.a. in direct time, vehicle operating and accident cost saving plus linked economic growth regionally and along the route).

      Finally the first EIA was actually approved by DEA in 2003 but overturned on appeal by then Minister “Kortbroek” Van Schalkwyk due to a potential conflict of interest with one of the firms that performed that EIA. The EIA was redone from scratch from 2008 – 2010 and DEA ended up approving pretty much exactly the same route that was approved in the 2003 EIA and was first identified in 1979 as the most feasible route.

  • There is absolutely no “environmental” reason (to quote project manager Craig McLachlan) why the road should be routed so close to the coast. To say it will encourage tourism is disingenuous in the extreme. It will utterly destroy environmentally responsible tourism. The N2 upgrade is necessary, but the route chosen is simply an engineer’s wet dream. It will lead to the ruination of one of South Africa’s loveliest stretches of coastline.

    • Agreed. There is a sinister aspect to the siting and building of this road. The mere fact that the likes of Mantashe has pushed the green button means mining is the motivation. Forget all the other BS.

      • The latest EIA and its “peer-reviewed” specialist studies still has serious defects in terms of highly significant negative ecological, biodiversity and broader environmental impacts which are impossible to mitigate. Furthermore, statutory alternatives to the preferred route were not considered objectively and an important part of the statutory public participation process was flawed. I reviewed the ecological and biodiversity specialist studies. If the proposed toll-road route goes ahead, the titanium mining will proceed. The highly significant negative primary, secondary and lower order biophysical and broader environmental impacts of the proposed toll road and ensuing titanium mining will have disastrous short-, medium- and long-term consequences for Nature, the biophysical landscape and the people of the affected area.

    • David. This is misinformation the public has been fed by the opponents to the project. From Ndwalane 19km inland from Port St Johns along the current R61 the N2WCR is routed 15+km inland to avoid the most pristine and environmentally sensitive areas of the Pondoland Centre of Floral Endemism despite there being “easier” routes closer to the coast. It is only after crossing the Mtenthu River about 70km from PSJ does the route start coming closer to the coast ( over predominantly already environmentally degraded areas) until it crosses the Mzamba Gorge 2.5 km inland. The route unfortunately has to come close to the coast in the Amadiba area to cross the massive Mzamba gorge at the only realistic bridge site and to avoid displacing hundreds of families between the Mzamba and Mtamvuna rivers if it crossed further upstream. This route also then lines up with the existing Mtamvuna River bridge near Port Edward 2 km further.

    • Cont/ Currently eco-tourism in the area is almost non-existent and completely unsustainable due to the extremely poor road network and limited accessibility. The N2WCR Bio-diversity offset programme will see well over 15 000 Ha of new protected areas ( 150km2) being created including the major expansion of the Msikaba and Silaka Nature reserves. These new protected areas will protect the pristine core of the Pondoland Centre of floral endemism for future generations (and eco-tourists). The Wild Coast will never become like the KZN south coast as we now have significant legislation in place to control unsustainable development (SPLUMA, NEMA, Transkei Coastal Exclusion Zone to name just 3)

      The new road will allow sustainable eco- adventure- and conventional tourism to flourish.

  • The latest EIA and its “peer-reviewed” specialist studies still has serious defects in terms of highly significant negative ecological, biodiversity and broader environmental impacts which are impossible to mitigate. Furthermore, statutory alternatives to the preferred route were not considered objectively and an important part of the statutory public participation process was flawed. I reviewed the ecological and biodiversity specialist studies. If the proposed toll-road route goes ahead, the titanium mining will proceed. The highly significant negative primary, secondary and lower order biophysical and broader environmental impacts of the proposed toll road and ensuing titanium mining will have disastrous short-, medium- and long-term consequences for Nature, the biophysical landscape and the people of the affected area.

    • Dr Wilson. I accept that there are those who will never embrace the N2WCR project and there will always be differences in opinion. However your allegations were tested in High Court and failed. In 2019 Judge Pretorius comprehensively dismissed the case brought by Sinegugu Zukulu (the last applicant that had not withdrawn) against the Minister of Environmental Affairs seeking to overturn the RoD using these exact arguments.

      As you should know the proposed Titanium mine must still go through a full EIA and also get Community Consent in terms of IPILRA. I personally don’t believe any mine operator can overcome the many interlinked water & environmental issues to achieve approval and I am not alone in this assessment. But even if granted, any appeal is decided by Minster Creecy not Minster Mantashe and she has already overturned some controversial mining licenses on appeal. So again – other than proximity, there is no direct link between the two projects, no cause and effect.

      You may also recall that at the time most key environmental opponents of the N2WCR eventually accepted, albeit grudgingly, that the 15 000 Ha Biodiversity Offset Agreement was adequate mitigation and therefore did not challenge the approval. Finally I could also point out the well proven link between social development and environmental sustainability.

      • My scientifically and professionally-based criticisms were not tested in the High Court! If the EIA process and the EIA and its specialist studies, which I reviewed, were scientifically, socially, economically, procedurally and statutorily sound and the route was changed to minimise or preferably prevent negative ecological, biodiversity and broader environmental primary, secondary, tertiary and lower order impacts, then I would support a proposed N2 upgrade. However, a large part of the whole process has been critically affected by the flawed EIA process, defective EIA, flawed specialist studies, lethal threats to and killings of anti-N2 toll road community members and other individuals, involvement of the Australian titanium mining company and its South African subsidiary, political interference and other negative aspects. It is not surprising that so many people are skeptical and opposed to the proposed N2 toll road.

        I have had considerable experience in ecological, biodiversity and related specialist studies and their scientific reviews over more than 20 years, including many mining studies. I have witnessed in recent times how minister Creecy and the DFFE are subservient to minister Mantashe and the DMRE.

        The 15,000 ha Biodiversity Offset Agreement is NOT adequate mitigation from a scientific perspective.

        • My sincere apology Dr Wilson. You are correct, your personal allegations and professional opinion were not tested in court. What was tested and failed in High Court are the exact same allegations and professional opinions that you have expressed here, just made by other parties.