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Taking the "wild" out of the Wild Coast

WRITTEN BY WESSA       
THURSDAY, 04 AUGUST 2011 11:42
On Monday 25 July, a year since appeals were first submitted, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, rejected all 49 appeals against the development of the N2 toll road and in so doing has given the go-ahead for the construction of this new section of the highway. 

For over a decade, WESSA has played an influential role in the N2 toll road Environmental Impact Assessment process. As an interested and affected party with a long history in conserving the Wild Coast, WESSA delineated a recommended alternative path that would have the least impact on this biologically diverse and sensitive area. This proved to play a significant role in the final alignment: 80% of the new road will fall on existing roads with only 20% being greenfield development.

The 90km of road to be constructed between Ndwalane and Ntafufu and between Lusikisiki and the Mthamvuna River, will be an extremely costly development as large bridges are required to cross many deep gorges. One of the continual questions through the process has been: could the revenue not be better spent on upgrading existing roads, especially ancillary ones that would be of more benefit to the surrounding communities in the area?

The road’s benefits will come at a hefty price to some of the poorest communities in the country. In addition, with six toll plazas being erected along the new road (two in KwaZulu-Natal and four in the Eastern Cape), it is commuters who will be footing most of the bill.

As much as WESSA understands the potential social and economic benefits that may accrue from the construction of the road, we remain concerned about the change in the nature and social fabric of the area forever. “This may very well take the ‘wild’ out of the “Wild” Coast,” says Chris Galliers, WESSA Biodiversity Programme Manager, “It is another decision that speaks to the short-term gains of the political rhetoric. WESSA hopes the Minister will apply equal attention to the long standing need for the area to attain some level of formal protection as identified in the National Protected Area Expansion Area, prior to any construction taking place”. The Minister does recognise the importance of the biological diversity of the area and admits that it is a vulnerable asset that needs protection: “I am aware that the proposed road, being a linear development, will fragment this delicate system.”

The Wild Coast is part of the Maputo-Pondoland Albany Hotspot, a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot. WESSA would like to see a greater commitment to the preservation of our natural heritage by the department which carries this mandate.

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