Wild Coast ecology economy faces hellfire at the hands of Shell

Scores of creative messages are appearing in opposition to Operation Phakisa gas and oil mining of the ocean such as this one from Rhodes University graduate Steve Pike of veteran online surf magazine, Wavescape.
Scores of creative messages are appearing in opposition to Operation Phakisa gas and oil mining of the ocean such as this one from Rhodes University graduate Steve Pike of veteran online surf magazine, Wavescape.
Image: SUPPLIED

The public barrage aimed at Shell as it rides in again to blast the Wild Coast oceans in its second search for gas has brought up a new ecological way of seeing economic development.

There is no deviation from the linear, heavy-industry approach in the mind of mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe: first the 2D seismic survey in 2018, now on December 1 a full 3D blasting over 6,011m² from Morgan Bay to Port St Johns for four or five months.

There was clearly enough found in the unannounced 2018 2D survey of the Wild Coast to excite Shell’s BG International, and its 50% partner Impact Oil to carry on blasting and hopefully drilling.

With the ANC-heavy Thebe Investments owning 28% of Shell Downstream (refineries and marketing), there is a clear interest in the ruling party to strike oil, bring it ashore and make oil billions.

Forestry, fisheries & the environment minister Barbara Creecy held up her hand and said her department was not involved; mineral resources & energy handled the authorisation.

All signs point to  classic neo-independence picture of an oil-intoxicated dynasty drifting on a luxury yacht adrift in a polluted sea of unemployment.

All policy signs point to Port St Johns being rebuilt as a refinery town — and should that happen, Shell will lay claim to a further 5% ownership.

That will see yet another African treasure and asset, the Wild Coast hub, being owned by a multinational one-percenter.

This raises the hackles of many from an environment destruction perspective, but also from an economic model based on ecology.

The issue is ablaze in public life, with 170,000 petitioners signing a stinging rebuke of  seismic blasting on change.org.

Protesters along the coastline have promised to harass survey vessel Amazon Warrior from Cape Town to the Wild Coast but the online firestorm has drawn a net zero response from Shell and Mantashe, beyond Shell stating their authorisation was legal and compliant.

This is the response categorised as “blah blah” by Greta Thunberg.

There is a body of scientific evidence building which links mammal stranding to noisy pollution in the ocean.

At the forefront of the disquiet is seismic blasting — streams of up to 48 air guns housed in arrays being dragged below the ocean surface by the survey vessel firing blasts in unison every 10 seconds for four or five months.

There is everything catastrophic about the modus and model. World views, old and new are colliding.

A sense of human and ecological survivalism drives public reaction.

Against the background of the COP26 and Paris agreements, the Mantashe, Shell, Thebe Investments alliance is entering into the area of incredible ecological beauty, and extreme ocean treachery.

The survey site is known for the treacherous Aghulas current which can torrent up to 8.5km/hour. 

That is 70-million cubic metres per second, twice the speed of the Gulf Stream.

The potential for oil spillage is not understated.

The public vacuum created by a muted government and pedantic Shell has been filled with volumes of new information about how the Wild Coast ocean ecological system works as an auditory wonderworld and how devastating and piercing the blasts will be behaviourally disruptive to murderous for the smallest coral to 38 species of cetaceans — whales and dolphins — but also turtles, reef fish, every last molecule in the system.

It is not unsurprising that the biology lecture has had such a captivated audience.

For many South Africans, from Xhosa-speaking subsistence farmers, to cottage owners, holidaymakers and adventurers, there are deep bonds with Wild Coast wilderness.

Rows over who gets what from the ocean have started to settle say some hoteliers as the sustainability of the hotels, guest cottages, East Cape Parks and Tourism reserves, community lodges and the entire kaleidoscope of Wild Coast culture melds.

Xhosa working men still go to the mines, and this too is where resistance stems, with thousands of ill, retrenched or retired miners returning to former Transkei and struggle to get their benefits.

In Pondoland where the Amadiba people led by the Amadiba Crisis Committee won a battle against Australian miners and Mantashe recently reverberated around the world.

This will be a battle of the coastline vs the profit waistline of shareholders and Mantashe.

This is no tiny, isolated band of warrior subsistence farmers grouped around the red sands of Xolobeni, this is a national and international upwelling which has placed the SA government in a most damning position.

A 454-page tome of a PhD thesis handed to Rhodes University by Eastern Cape’s Dr Div de Villiers this month, interviews with 100 Wild Coast traditional leaders, and 100 old black and white foresters and game rangers, revealed a deep understanding of how the Wild Coast’s land-ocean ecology intersects and needs to be conserved and protected, as it has been for hundreds of years.

De Villiers, director of environmental law enforcement in the department of economic development, environmental affairs and tourism, has handed the government brilliant baseline body of research which shows the way forward to an ecological economy where traditional nguni herds, food and market gardening and farming, and coastal tourism and food collection can exist and must be assisted through state development.

But while Mantashe continues to defy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s demand for renewable, less harmful energy for SA, it seems that the Wild Coast has become a cauldron of immediate-past plundering vs an organic, people-built softer future where people look to government to get on with promoting the authentic green economy, starting with the cannabis farms and beneficiation projects.

This is a natural fit for millions of people in the former Transkei and those who have found tranquillity in ancestral rural homesteads and on the coast.

People know that when mining and heavy industry arrives, these tenets of ancient culture come under attack.

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