‘Wild Coast Wars’ dangerously devoid of facts, says Sanral

‘Wild Coast Wars’ dangerously devoid of facts, says Sanral

Nomboniso Gasa’s recent Sunday Times article ignores court judgments and puts more lives at risk, says agency

In “Wild Coast Wars” (February 26), writer Nomboniso Gasa indirectly implicates SANRAL in underhanded tactics and illegal activities in its execution of the N2 Wild Coast Road (N2WCR) in the Eastern Cape. While we welcome her right to her opinions, we find some of her claims preposterous, unfounded and bordering on defamation. It is regrettable that in her research of “Wild Coast Wars” she did not make any attempt to speak to SANRAL, which would have enhanced the objectivity of her article. This omission makes some of her allegations dangerously devoid of facts or truth. To wit, Gasa seems unaware that some of her allegations, specifically that SANRAL runs roughshod over communities and does not consult, were tested and dismissed by the courts.

SANRAL, as a government entity, is guided by the constitution and laws of South Africa. Accordingly, we condemn any threats or the use of violence and intimidation anywhere we work and against anyone affected by our work. Furthermore, SANRAL fully complies with all relevant legislation and regulations, including those of the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act, in dealing with the rights of communities and individuals. We are also guided and assisted in the interpretation and application of traditional or communal law by local traditional leadership, the custodian of these laws.

The R20bn N2WCR is one of several massive infrastructure projects SANRAL is undertaking in the Eastern Cape. Importantly, it predates, by more than two decades, the discovery of minerals on the Wild Coast and debates emanating therefrom. This project is making a significant contribution to socioeconomic development in the region. Construction work will create about 8,000 direct jobs, with a wage bill of roughly R750m, and between 21,300 and 28,100 indirect jobs. Once completed, ongoing operational work is anticipated to create 900 direct and up to 18,900 indirect jobs.

Of course, the project has not been without challenges. Construction of the Msikaba Bridge, which will be the longest and highest single-span, cable-stayed bridge in Africa, is progressing well, with huge benefits flowing to local communities. However, the other mega-bridge, Mtentu, has seen little progress after construction stopped in October 2019. A new N2 Mtentu Bridge tender was awarded to the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and MECSA Construction Joint Venture in November 2022 at a cost of R4.05bn. There are also seven additional new major river bridges, numerous new interchanges and the upgrading or construction of multiple access roads aimed at providing connectivity, mobility and access to social and economic opportunities for local communities.

Attempts to rewrite facts and ignore a court judgment are not only unfortunate but unhelpful, mischievous and endanger Sanral staff as they insidiously, and almost directly, conflate our presence and work on the Wild Coast with some of the must-be-condemned killings of people there

Though the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) has the right to oppose any aspect of the project, it has an equally binding responsibility to respect court judgments regarding the project. The route that it is opposing was approved by the department of environmental affairs, upheld on appeal and reconfirmed in the Pretoria high court as the most feasible among limited options on a balance of economic, social and environmental factors.

This approved route was initially identified as the most feasible in 1979, long before minerals were discovered in the area in the 1990s, and long before the recently decided plan to develop a smart city in those environs. The route must come close to the coast to cross the Mzamba Gorge at the only realistic bridge site, to avoid displacing hundreds of families between the Mzamba and Mtamvuna rivers, and to line up with the existing Mtamvuna River bridge near Port Edward. As established during the public environmental impact assessment process, due to the unfavourable topography and unacceptable social impact, there aren’t feasible options for a high-speed mobility route that crosses the Mzamba Gorge further inland.

In dismissing a case brought against the minister of environmental affairs in March 2019 related to environmental approvals for the N2WCR, the judge wrote that the public participation process followed by SANRAL was likely the most comprehensive ever carried out in South Africa to that date and that “[t]here was no indication at any stage by any party that the public participation process was contravening customary law”. Attempts to rewrite facts and ignore a court judgment are not only unfortunate but unhelpful, mischievous and endanger SANRAL staff as they insidiously, and almost directly, conflate our presence and work on the Wild Coast with some of the must-be-condemned killings of people there.

SANRAL is deeply committed to dialogue and stakeholder engagement which we have elevated to the status of a pillar in our strategy, placing it on par with roads, our core mandate, road safety and mobility. In the case of the N2WCR, SANRAL has extensively engaged with all stakeholders, including the ACC, which, to be sure, is not persona non grata at the institution. Its right of existence and to dissent is enshrined in our constitution. Where we must differ with the ACC, however, we openly do and will continue to without any underhanded or dirty tactics as these would be unlawful and inimical to our legal character as a public entity. We also continuously engage with local, traditional and provincial leadership structures on the project.

We will continue to meet all communities and stakeholders along the route and obtain access agreements from all affected communities to ensure our staff and service providers can access the communal land safely. This is an ongoing process which is the only legitimate way to give SANRAL what amounts to a community licence to operate over and above the legal authority we hold in terms of our existence and mandate, and which we secure through legal processes where necessary.

In conclusion, the N2WCR is a catalytic infrastructure project which will significantly transform the Eastern Cape economy and the lives of the people in the province. In addition to the socioeconomic impact of the project for local communities, the minimum 30% subcontracting earmarked for targeted enterprises will result in more than R4bn flowing to SMMEs, mainly in the OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo districts.

We want to work closely with all relevant stakeholders, including the ACC, to ensure we deliver this critical project for the province and the socioeconomic impact is felt by ordinary citizens on the ground.

* Mona is general manager: marketing & communications, for the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL)