‘Sanral’s false promises’: Protesters block construction of R1.6bn bridge

Residents protest against a new road being built in the beautiful Wild Coast area.
Residents protest against a new road being built in the beautiful Wild Coast area.

Violent protests have erupted in Jama village, a community linked to the proposed N2 Wild Coast Toll road in Mbizana, Eastern Cape, which has resulted in it coming to a halt.

Protesters have blockaded roads near the proposed R1.6 billion Mtentu mega bridge meant to be constructed there and create a number of jobs.

At the heart of the problem, according to villagers, was a promise by roads agency Sanral that jobs would be created as part of the controversial project which has received opposition by members of the Amadiba Crisis Committee who are against proposed mining in Xolobeni.

Opponents of mining in Xolobeni believe the N2 Wild Coast Toll road was a way of ensuring mining was viable in the area by making a road network that would make it easy to transport the raw material of titanium to be extracted out of Xolobeni to a smelter in East London.

The violent scenes on Tuesday morning resulted in two members of the community being arrested after protesters blockaded roads and prevented cars from passing through.

City Press has seen videos and pictures of angry protesters burning things alongside the road while preventing cars from passing.

Work on the Mtentu bridge, which has already begun, had to be suspended on Tuesday as angry community members vowed that no work would take place until their concerns were addressed by Sanral.

Mbizana mayor, Daniswa Mafumbatha, was forced to intervene by holding an impromptu meeting with the community of Jama in a bid to calm the situation down.

But little came out of her meeting on Tuesday morning as the community stopped the operations in the construction of the bridge.

Sanral southern region manager, Mbulelo Peterson, said the Sanral representative sent to the meeting was delayed by a vehicle breakdown and was unable to attend.

“The meeting was a follow on to protests held last week and threats that forced the contractor to withdraw his staff from the site for safety reasons,” Peterson said.

Provincial police spokesperson, Captain Khaya Thonjeni, confirmed that some arrests were effected but could not say how many people were arrested and on what charges.

“Public order police have been deployed in the area to monitor the situation and public unrest. There have been few arrests effected but I cannot confirm charges yet,” said Thonjeni.

Community member, Noluyolo December, refused to comment while another villager, Thwesha Silangwe said he could not talk because he was still in a meeting.

In one of the videos protesters could be seen blocking a municipal traffic vehicle from making its way through.

The Amadiba Crisis Committee in a statement said they were in solidarity with the people of Jama against Sanral.

Sebenzile Mathumbu, a villager in Jama, confirmed that all operations in Jama in relation to the Mtentu bridge have been stopped.

“People are angry that Sanral has reneged on their promises they made before people agreed on the project. The contractor they have employed has brought a whole lot of people who come from outside the communities of Amadiba. We see a lot of people that we don’t know now employed to work on the project. That was not part of the deal so that is why people said the project must stop until Sanral comes here and tells us why they are going back on their word. They promised us jobs and now they employ people from outside of the villages,” said Mathumbu.

Sbu Mqandi, chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, said, unlike the Amadiba coastal villages, people in Jama and other inland villages affected by the plans for N2 Wild Coast Toll Road have been largely in favour of the project, because of job promises.

“Our experience is that Sanral makes deals with contractors that don’t want to hire locals. Local traditional leaders are bribed and communities are then divided. Don’t believe Sanral’s propaganda,” Mqadi said.

“Sanral will investigate all of the allegations and, if substantiated, take any corrective actions necessary," Peterson said.

“However, it must be borne in mind that Sanral and the appointed engineer are already continuously monitoring the contractor to ensure strict compliance with the contract and regulations” 

Peterson added that the local unemployment rate was “over 60% with tens of thousands of often desperate unemployed local residents in the surrounding area all competing for only a few hundred jobs available on the Mtentu bridge site” and it was “therefore relatively easy for instigators to raise up a crowd using allegations of discrimination, unfair job allocation, gatekeeping, corruption, nepotism, favouritism and/or broken promises”.

He said that by stopping operations “these instigators hope to blackmail the contractor or Sanral into making additional concessions, awards or jobs to their benefit. Such actions however severely affect the duration and cost of the project and amounts to economic sabotage of this key economic infrastructure project”.

Last month Sanral told City Press that construction on the Mtentu mega bridge started in January this year while that of Msikaba mega bridge would start in February 2019.

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