N2 wild coast road battle rages on

2018-10-08 14:11

The controversial N2 Wild Coast Toll Road project could soon grind to a shuddering halt if some AmaMpondo communities have their way.

The multibillion-rand project has been a source of contestation between the government and some villages in Pondoland – similar to problems with the Xolobeni titanium mining project.

Those who oppose the Xolobeni mining project in Mbizana are also against the toll road being constructed along the coast because they see it as a means to facilitate the mining project.

Although the SA National Road Agency (Sanral) is pressing ahead with the toll road, opponents of the project are preparing for a court battle.

Johan Lorenzen, a lawyer representing some of the affected communities, told City Press this week the matter would be heard in the Pretoria High Court from December 3 to 5.

The communities want the court to set aside Sanral’s authorisation to build the road.

“Sanral obtained an environmental authorisation to build the road and in December we will ask the court to remove that environmental authorisation. Our clients say they were not consulted effectively.”

Lorenzen said the application was filed in 2012 but Sanral had managed to avoid it from being heard in court until now.

“We believe the application will succeed. If it does Sanral will have to report back and explain to Treasury why it has undertaken such a huge wasteful expenditure.”

The heads of argument were filed this week.

Sanral has until November 4 to file its heads of argument opposing the application.

Lorenzen said his clients included the Sigidi and Mdatya communities, who claim not to have been consulted about the road planned in their villages.

Asked about Sanral’s construction of the toll road, including tenders awarded for two multibillion-rand megabridges, despite its court challenges, Lorenzen said the road agency was playing around with taxpayers’ money.

“They will have their own views on the merits but we are fully confident that it will be set aside.

It is important to keep in mind that our clients have always said the road should not go through their areas.

“This is because they believe the road will subsidise Xolobeni mining and make it effectively financially feasible. Our clients are open to the road proceeding, provided it is moved away from them.”

Last month Sanral awarded a tender for a R1.65 billion megabridge, which will be built over the Msikaba River gorge near Lusikisiki.

“The successful bidder was Concor Mota-Engil joint venture – a strategic partnership between Concor, a large and majority black-owned civil engineering company, and Mota-Engil, a major international construction firm.

“The construction is due to start in February next year and will take 33 months after the initial three-month ramp-up period starting in October this year,” Sanral said.

The height of the deck of the Msikaba megabridge is about 195m above the valley floor and it will be the third-highest bridge in Africa after the Bloukrans Bridge near Plettenberg Bay, which is 216m high, and the Mtentu Bridge at 223m.

The Mtentu megabridge in Mbizana started construction at a cost of R1.8 billion in January this year and forms part of the new N2 Wild Coast Toll Road, said Sanral.

On Thursday, it said it was unfazed by the court challenge and was moving ahead with building the road despite opposition.

Sanral announced that a 24-month community development project had been rolled out in the Sigidi and Mahaha villages.

“The aim of the project is to improve mobility between the two villages, enhance road safety for local traffic and non-motorised traffic and enhance the access of local communities to the toll road to facilitate socioeconomic development,” said Fezekile Duze, Sanral’s southern region project manager.

Sanral said following consultation and a selection process, 10 local learner small businesses from the two villages had been appointed to construct a 10km access gravel road.

But a community member in Mtentu, Sibusiso Mqadi, chairperson of the Amadiba crisis committee, said the people did not want the road anywhere near their communities because it would facilitate the Xolobeni mining project.

“We see that the construction of the bridge is going ahead in Mtentu but we are not part of the process and have been sidelined and even chased away from meetings to discuss matters pertaining to its construction.

“The purpose of this road is to make it possible for trucks to ship the raw materials from Xolobeni mine to a smelter in East London.

“So the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road will make it easier for them to transport the minerals they will get from the mine. The freeway they are proposing is meant only to reduce the travelling distance to the smelter in East London, thereby facilitating mining,” said Mqadi.

“We are opposed to the road, just as we are to the mining in Xolobeni. We know the projects are related.”

In their heads of arguments, some of the applicants, who include Sinegugu Zukulu and the Sigidi and Mdatya communities, argue that construction of the road would force them to relocate from the land they have lived on and that ancestral graves would also have to be moved.

They said the road, which will cover 560km between the N2 Gonubie Interchange near East London and the N2 Interchange in Isipingo, south of Durban, would have detrimental effects on the culture, way of life and future of the Wild Coast.

“It will run through the middle of their communities, dividing them in two as effectively as a wall.

“It will have serious consequences to the environment.

“Although it might bring economic benefit to other areas, it will fundamentally alter the applicants’ economic and social way of life,” the court papers – seen by City Press – said.

Vusi Mona, a Sanral spokesperson, said all the communities that were part of the original court application against the environmental authorisation withdrew in November 2015.

“The only applicant remaining is Mr Reinford Sinegugu Zukulu, a local resident and member of the Amadiba crisis committee, in his personal capacity,” Mona said.

“The environmental authorisation for the construction of the toll road was granted in 2009 and upheld on appeal by the minister of environmental affairs in 2010,” Mona said.

“Stakeholder engagement is ongoing and extensive consultation has been done ... All of these community, business, political and traditional leaders firmly support the project,” Mona said.

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January 12 2020