Defend Truth


The Wild Coast N2 toll road – for whose benefit really?


Bishop Geoff Davies, 'The Green Bishop', is the founder and honorary patron of the Southern African Faith Communities Environmental Institute, and retired Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Umzumvubu.

We are acutely aware of the need for jobs in our country, but that must go with the care and protection of the natural environment, essential for eco-tourism.

Why does Sanral spend so much on advertising? If it is doing what we, the public, approve of, they don’t have to try to convince us through costly advertising. But Sanral has been notably disregarding the opinion of those affected and involved.

Best known, of course, is the e-tolling system which brought about huge opposition.

Then the Western Cape Winelands toll road. Sanral refused to listen to Cape Town. The City had to spend millions to prevent Sanral’s toll plans.

And the N3 De Beer’s pass descending from the Highveld, which provoked considerable opposition.

Now we hear the Wild Coast toll road, with two of the largest bridges in Africa, is going ahead, at a cost in excess of R5-billion.

In 2004 the Wild Coast toll road was the number one environmental issue. There are three major concerns:

  • The cost of the bridges is grossly out of proportion to the benefit of South Africans. Is it responsible to spend this amount of money on two bridges and a toll road when we have such dire needs in the area of health and education and basic services?

  • The benefit versus the negative impact on the local people. We have written extensively to Sanral asking them to direct the road further inland, going from Lusikisiki to the Great Place at Qaukeni, to Holy Cross and on to Bizana. This would serve far more people, who are dotted across the countryside than the “greenfields” route direct to Port Edward, requiring two of the longest bridges in Africa.

I told Mr Nazir Alli, then the CEO of Sanral, in 2004 that there is indeed a huge need for road improvement in the former Transkei, but that was for access roads for the local communities scattered across the countryside, not a high speed through road. He explained that that his responsibility was for national roads, not provincial. However, he told me that if I lifted my objection to the “greenfields” section of the road plan, he would undertake to build the local roads that I had requested.

  • The environmental impact: This concern is the most serious. Pondoland is a centre of botanical endemism with more than 200 plants that are found nowhere else. The impact of two extremely long bridges over the Mtentu and Msikaba river gorges and on the Msikaba vulture colony, one of the few surviving colonies of Cape Vultures, could be disastrous. Sanral denies it will have an impact. I don’t believe it. If that colony becomes extinct, that will be a crime against God’s creation which I lay squarely at Nazir Alli and Sanral’s feet.

The colony is one of the most spectacular sites and sights South Africa has to offer. The colony is based in the unique Mkambati nature reserve where your first look is over the “Superbowl” of indigenous trees with a distant waterfall cascading down the cliff edge, then comes to the point overlooking the Msikaba River Gorge. There, below you, the sheer 200m cliffs are lined with vultures nesting, with 20, 30 or 40 vultures wheeling overhead at any given time.

One late afternoon a fish eagle flew below me, calling. On another a flock of swallows numbering in their hundreds flew below, with the late sun glistening off their backs. Mkambati is a small reserve only 10km by 12km in extent, with 23 major waterfalls cascading into the unique sandstone ravines and gorges. This is a most precious and spectacular place. It should not be threatened by a road.

This road will be bordering this nature reserve. Why do we humans continue to destroy incredible and magnificent natural heritages given to us?

Of course Sanral denies that the road has any connection to the proposed mining by an Australian company. Oh, there is a huge amount of money involved and so for 17 years a small number of people will find employment and a far smaller number of people, in government and those bought in by the mining company, will make a fortune, but 24km of coastal land, with five major fish-breeding estuaries, will be destroyed for ever. They cannot be brought back.

The local community, which has enjoyed life there for generations, will become homeless and landless. This is at a time when our new president is saying he wants to encourage agriculture and provide land for the indigenous people of South Africa, but now takes the land from agriculturalists. The government, both provincial and national, claim they are bringing “development”.

Why should we lose our land for roads and electricity which all South Africans are expecting”, the local community asks.

And we are not poor”, they also say. “We have land, we have our cattle and goats and fields for our crops”.

I can imagine some paying millions for a house overlooking the sea, walking down to catch a fish or harvesting oysters and picking fresh vegetables and fruit from around their house.

The development of hiking trails is strongly supported by Minister Derek Hanekom and the NEC, but you can’t hike along 24km of destroyed coast. This section, from Port Edward to the Mtentu River, had been developed, by local people, for a very popular horse trail, with local home accommodation and a lodge at the Mtentu River mouth. This has been destroyed by those with mining and political interests and has already resulted in the deaths of three people who supported ecotourism and opposed mining.

We are well aware of the need for a road upgrade and have long begged Sanral to heed our plea for a road that would bring development and benefit to the local people, not just the trucking and engineering industries.

There is indeed great potential for eco-tourism, but this requires sensitive access roads, not an 80m-wide toll road blasting its way across the countryside, dividing communities in the process.

I asked Mr Alli 14 years ago for roads that would benefit eco-tourism and the local communities. We are also acutely aware of the need for jobs in our country, but that must go with the care and protection of the natural environment, essential for eco-tourism.

It is now urgent that we implement a “Social Dividend”, also called “a Basic Income Grant”, to overcome the poverty and inequality besetting our country. DM


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