Tuesday, June 30th, 2009
By Hilary Venables
Radio reports that the controversial Wild Coast toll road has been approved are not only premature, but part of a deliberate campaign of disinformation by certain members of government, according to opponents of the scheme.
The SABC carried the claim in a succession of both English and Xhosa bulletins last Sunday, basing it on comments made by the Minister of Co-Operative Governance, Sicelo Shiceka. It’s the second time in a month that the national broadcaster has reported Shiceka as saying the toll road has been given the official go-ahead.
In fact, no decision has yet been made. A spokesperson for the Department of Water and the Environment, which has yet to consider the application, confirmed that they were still waiting for the report on the Environmental Impact Assessment.
Social worker John Clarke, a spokesperson for Sustain the Wild Coast and the Amadiba Crisis Committee, said certain politicians were deliberately spreading misinformation.
“They use radio because they know most of the people are illiterate. They are abusing the customary respect which traditional people show to their leaders. This is an act of desperation – they are breaking a bond of trust.”
Media liaison officer for the Shiceka’s department, Vuyelwa Vika, insists her boss was misquoted.
“When he said the road would go ahead, he was saying that it must go ahead, because it’s an opportunity we can’t miss … it’s important for development in the area,” she said.
The road, and the proposed titanium mine which it is being built primarily to serve, are the subjects of a well-documented and long-running dispute that has pitted the mining company and sympathetic politicians against the local community, environmentalists, social workers and the KwazuluNatal provincial government.
Opponents want economic development in the area to be oriented towards tourism, small farming and “green” jobs which they say will provide sustainable livelihoods, while the mine will destroy nearby farms and natural habitat and leave a toxic wasteland when it closes down in a couple of decades.
But Vika claimed that the road now had the approval of the community, including AmaMpondo King Mpondombini Sigcau and Queen MaSobhuza Sigcau, who have long been staunch opponents of both the mine and the proposed route of the road.
“The minister was in the area two weeks ago, and he invited the King and Queen to a private function at his homestead,” Vika said.
“They discussed the toll road and the King and Queen said they want the project to go ahead.”
This is not how Queen Sicgau remembers it.
“We did attend the function, but we hardly spoke to the minister. We arrived late and had to leave soon after so we only spent five minutes talking to him. We didn’t discuss the toll road with him,” she told me.
“We have never been approached by the minister regarding the toll road.”
She also said that the royal couple’s position had not changed on either the road or the mine.
Community activist Nontshiza Pasika was adamant that the community was as opposed to the road as ever.
“If this road was meant for the people, it would connect villages to clinics and schools and farmers to the market. But we can see it’s being built for the mine.
“The mine is a spectre hanging over us. Until they separate the road from the mine, we will oppose the road.’ – enviromedianews.co.za
What Shiceko really said
The transcript of the news bulletin shows that the SABC was indeed liberal in its translation of Shiceka’s words.
According to the news as read: “Government has given the green light for the controversial N2 toll road stretching through the Wild Coast to go ahead. This, despite objections from Non Governmental Organisations, environmentalists, local communities and the KwaZulu/Natal government.”
This is followed by actuality of Shiceka speaking: “We are saying the N2 Road is going ahead , we are going to ensure that those who are opposed to it must engage with us, but we must make sure that this thing is going ahead, We have heard that the municipal manager of eThekwini in KwaZulu Natal is opposed to it, we will engage him, or any other person. The NGOs if they are opposed to it they must provide jobs for the people, but we believe the traditional leaders and traditional communities they are supporting and behind this thing. It is going to go ahead.”
Which is not quite the same thing, but given the scale of the opposition, it certainly reveal a remarkable level of confidence on Siceka’s part. – enviromedianews.co.za