Wild Coast communities slam Mantashe over 'insulting' oil and gas talks with traditional leaders

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Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24
  • Minister Gwede Mantashe this week consulted with traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape about the development of oil and gas.
  • But Wild Coast communities feel insulted for being excluded from these consultations.
  • They believe only consulting traditional leaders is not sufficient for a democratic process.

Wild Coast communities say they feel insulted after Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe did not include them in consultations about the development of oil and gas this week.

Earlier this week, Mantashe's department issued an advisory indicating he would be engaging with traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape between February and March. The engagements are to provide clarity and find solutions to challenges in developing the upstream petroleum industry - which involves the exploration of oil and gas.

Wild Coast communities and civil society organisations have opposed exploration through seismic surveys - which involve using airguns to send pulses of sound into water, to map out the seabed to detect oil and gas resources.

In December, the Makhanda High Court ruled in favour of Wild Coast communities seeking to block oil and gas company Shell's seismic survey. The interim interdict is in place, pending a separate legal challenge of Shell's environmental authorisation for the project.

Judge Gerald Bloem said that the consultation process Shell followed was "flawed", rendering the exploration right for the project "unlawful and invalid". Bloem further raised concerns over the negative impact of the survey on marine life.

Minister Mantashe has defended the seismic survey and has said the majority of potential impacts that were assessed to have "very low significance." 

Mantashe has further hit out at legal challenges of exploration, saying that they were effectively killing investment.

Representatives of coastal communities and civil society organisations, however, have not taken kindly to Mantashe's subsequent plans to engage leaders of the AmaGcaleja and AbaThembu traditional councils this week. They have questioned whether this is a democratic process. 

Nonhle Mbuthuma, spokesperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), said in a statement that it was communities who brought the legal challenge against Shell and government last year, and not traditional leaders. The ACC was formed by villagers of Xolobeni, in the Wild Coast, back in 2007, to prevent a proposed titanium mine in the area.

"… We demand that our government not undermine communities, but to respect communities. When there are developments proposed, government must consult communities. It is part of the Constitution, and therefore they cannot ignore us," said Mbuthuma.

Mbuthuma argued that Mantashe's decision to consult traditional leaders was a "top-down" approach:

When we hear that the minister has decided to only consult the traditional leaders, it is a very insulting to our customary law, because it is a top-down approach, you cannot just consult traditional leaders and think it is done deal. Traditional leaders can only be leaders because of the people.

Citing the Makhanda High Court judgement, Mbuthuma said, "The 'king' cannot make representations on behalf of all community members."

The judgment notes that some communities, such as Amadiba, have strict rules about consultation and emphasise the importance of seeking consensus. "This is part of their customary law and avoids the imposition of top-down decision-making," the judgment read.

"In terms of customary law, you need to talk to the people – when you talk to the traditional leaders, you are not consulting," said Sinegugu Zukulu, of non-profit company Sustaining the Wild Coast, which supports the Amadiba community by raising and managing funds and providing other advisory and administrative support.

Civil society organisation Green Connection's community outreach coordinator Neville van Rooy also raised concerns over consultation, saying it was necessary for the minister to consult with fishing communities that depend on the sea for their livelihoods.

Several organisations such as Greenpeace Africa, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, Groundwork, Oceans Not Oil and Natural Justice backed the communities' statement.

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