Fighting fracking one cupcake at a time

2012-08-04 14:40

Nieu Bethesda residents ready to fight on when the hydraulic fracturing moratorium is lifted

Jam, cupcakes and Zapiro T-shirts may seem like unlikely weapons in the fight against fracking.

But in a tiny Karoo town on a chilly Saturday morning, they are among the bestsellers at a market dedicated to raising funds to tackle the threat of fracking.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process in which millions of ­litres of water, combined with a chemical cocktail, are used to break through rock in order to ­release the shale gas.

Geologists estimate that the ­Karoo might hold the world’s fifth-largest shale gas reserve.

And economists estimate that if 10% of the Karoo’s shale gas reserve is ­explored, it could contribute up to R200 billion to South Africa’s gross domestic product and create 704 000 jobs over 25 years.

A fracking moratorium is currently in place while a government task team reports back to Cabinet, but that is expected to be lifted at the end of this month.

It’s then, Karoo residents believe, that the real fight begins. But a fight against the deep pockets of ­government, and corporations like oil and gas giant Shell, does not come cheap.

That’s why, on the wintery weekend of July 27 and 28, hundreds of ­concerned South Africans flocked to an anti-fracking festival in Nieu Bethesda for two days of fresh, organic produce, home-baked cakes, rallies, and song and dance – with a movie about frackingand a workshop thrown in for good measure.

The festival started on a Friday evening with a documentary screening at the Ramstal Pub.

 ­Afterwards, the locals lit fires for a massive bring-and-braai and the scent of Karoo lamb filled the air as people huddle together discussing ways to fight off fracking.

The next day, on Saturday, the market opened a brisk trade in jam, baked goods and T-shirts bearing one of Zapiro’s anti-fracking ­cartoons.

Children also gathered at the market to paint posters for the ­afternoon’s anti-fracking rally.

“Fracking will destroy our youth’s future,” said 12-year-old Peter Watermeyer from Karoo farm Zuurplaats.

“There is nothing for us if this goes ahead.”

Most of Nieu Bethesda’s ­businesses put up anti-fracking posters for the day.

The town’s feelings are clear: “S’Hell on Earth”, “Frack off”, “Unite against Fracking” and “Oh Frack! Ons Karoo gaan vrek” were some of the ­slogans displayed outside shops.

Auntie Evelin, who runs the ­popular eatery Auntie Evelin se Plek, said: “I run a restaurant and soup kitchen.

Where will I get ­water for my cooking if this goes ahead?

Will people still come to my restaurant if there is fracking all over the place?

These big people just break everything in our ­environment.”

The anti-fracking lobby in South Africa has been accused of being a white-interest group, but Nieu Bethesda residents angrily reject this suggestion.

“Here is not a bo-dorp (uptown) or an onder-dorp (downtown). There is only Nieu Bethesda. Black or white, we don’t want this fracking,” added Auntie Evelin.

Tumi Booysen of the Southern Cape Land Committee echoed Auntie Evelin’s sentiments during a rally later in the day.

“Fracking is not a white problem only. It should not be perceived that only white people will be affected.

“Everyone here is worried about their livelihood. We are all ­vulnerable.”

Denold Vyfer, an emerging ­farmer who only started farming in 2009, said: “I’ve just got going, now we hear about this fracking. What will happen to our ­children?

"The Karoo is the most beautiful spot on earth. Fracking will ruin this.”

Professor Gerrit van Tonder of University of the Free State also made his opinion known on the subject during the rally.

“This is not about emotion,” he told the audience.

“There simply is not enough known about the risks of fracking to the Karoo.”

By the time the rally drew to a close, people were hurrying indoors away from the creeping cold of the Nieu Bethesda afternoon.

But the festival was not over yet.

In the evening, folk singers Steve Newman and Greg Georgiades performed at the town’s theatre in the last anti-fracking salvo of the weekend.

This weekend, the market was due to be back in action.

Nieu Bethesda residents remain ­firm and determined to stop fracking, one bottle of jam and plate of ­pancakes at a time.

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