http://www.themercury.co.za/wild-coast-toll-road-decision-is-shameful-1.1108434 <i>July 29 2011 at 11:29am </i>
<b>Wild Coast toll road decision is shameful</b>
SILLY, silly me. All these years I have laboured under the illusion that the prime duty of the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs and its minister was to protect our water resources and be the steward of our environment.
That is the role that was played in the past when the ministries were separate, by ministers like Kader Asmal and Valli Moosa.
But now it increasingly seems as though the ministry, under Edna Molewa, has abdicated its stewardship role, and has again become a Cinderella ministry that bows to pressure from big business, industry and more “senior” government ministries.
How else to explain two recent decisions which are totally inimical to the future of our wild areas and of our environment?
The first is this week’s dismissal of every single one of 49 appeals against the granting of permission to Sanral, to go ahead with the construction of the highly controversial N2 toll road through the Pondoland Wild Coast region of the former Transkei.
The second is the recent decision of the department to give the Limpopo Coal Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Australian Coal of Africa Limited, permission to extract 2.4 billion litres of water annually from the Limpopo alluvial aquifer for its Vele Colliery adjacent to Mapungubwe. That decision, which is likely to have a disastrous effect on the Limpopo Basin, and hence on all downstream areas, including the Kruger National Park, the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site, the Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area and on areas in Mozambique, is being appealed by a coalition of heavyweight NGOs.
Considering that the decision was based in part on an apartheid-era calculation that only 495 people (read 495 white people) relied on the sub-catchment in question for their water needs, I would, as a lay person, think that an appeal would have a fair chance of success.
But then I also thought that about the Wild Coast appeal. Silly, silly me. Slap my wrist.
Listen to this statement from Minister Molewa: “The appellants aver that the construction of the road through the Pondoland Centre of Endemicism will lead to an irreversible loss of natural capital and, as such, is regarded as ecologically unsustainable. In addition, attention is drawn to the fact that the Pondoland area is identified in the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy for South Africa – a strategy which was jointly developed by the Department of Environmental Affairs and the SA National Biodiversity Institute – as an area with high protection potential. In fact, it is stated in the Strategy that the creation of a protected area in Pondoland will be the last opportunity to establish a large coastal protected area in South Africa.”
Sounds like a pretty good argument to me, but no, Molewa dismisses it as follows: “I am aware that the proposed road, being a linear development, will fragment this delicate system… In such (a) situation, a balance should be sought between strict preservation on the one hand, and the promotion of development on the other…
“Such developments will only be available if the area is accessible. Thus, by making the area accessible, the construction of the road may contribute towards realising the area’s potential.”
I hate to say this, but our Environment Minister’s understanding of the concept of conservation of the environment is shameful.
In their excellent book, Mkambati and the Wild Coast, Div de Villiers and John Costello ruminate on the future of this unique area.
“It is easy for people to forget the lush forests that have provided medicines, food, shelter and spiritual solitude to generations of AmaMpondo. Together with the rolling grasslands, these forests face increasing commercial exploitation, which offers short-term wealth and a Western culture of progress and success. Thoughtless construction of roads, mines, and ill-conceived tourist developments risk destroying opportunities for the alternative route of carefully planned ecotourism and sustainable resource-use ventures of a kind that could ensure jobs, biodiversity conservation, and the preservation of AmaMpondo culture. The choice will ultimately lie with the AmaMpondo people.
“Hopefully they will make decisions of which their ancestors and future generations will be proud.”
Sadly, they did not not make the end decision. That decision was made by faceless bureaucrats in Pretoria. And it is a decision that should make their ancestors, and future generations, hang their heads in shame.