by Peter Baxter | www.southafricalogue.com
In the modern world, ‘wild’ as far as nature is concerned is a relative concept. It is enough, perhaps, that an area of natural beauty is not utterly trampled by urban development, or destroyed by irresponsible land use, for it to deserve the term ‘wild’. Certainly this is the case in the developing world, and most particularly along the earth’s tropical coastlines. The Wild Coast of South Africa’s Eastern Cape, although hardly wild, is by comparison to the KZN (Kwa-Zulu Natal) South Coast in a different world altogether. It is a gorgeous natural environment, comprising the signature open grasslands and hill country of the south coast, with deep cut ravines peppered with groves of aloe, and deep tidal estuaries cloaked on either bank with rich and unsullied riparian forest. There is no sign anywhere of mock Tuscan gated developments, of strip malls or the blanket sugar estates so ubiquitous throughout the region. It is moreover an environment fiercely protected by both a large cohort of outside environmentalists and significant numbers of local community members. The latter, almost uniquely, have successfully resisted the temptation to climb into bed with property developers and sell the long term integrity of their landscape for short term profit.
The Environmental Frontline
Currently, however, the issue is less property development and more highway construction and strip mining. The controversy in the first instances involves the extension of the ubiquitous toll road system, that is the pride of the South African transport infrastructure, through the Transkei, and secondly whether to grant Australian mining conglomerate, Minerals Commodities Limited, and Local Black Economic Empowerment group Xolobeni Empowerment Company, license to dune mine substantial base metal reserves along the coast. While the intricacies of this contest are beyond the scope of this narrative, they do broadly pit local concerns against central and international financial interests. At the core is the question of land ownership, which, in the case of the wild coast, is land owned by the state and held in trust for the people.