The FrackFreeFest held in Matatiele in October gathered 120 delegates from communities all over South Africa-
those currently affected by mining as well as those impacted on by numerous applications for exploration licences by companies seeking to explore and exploit potential unconventional gas reserves.
The Chief Whip for Matatiele was present and reminded everyone that nature conservation, tourism and agriculture are the area’s investments of choice. “We need to create an awareness for nature conservation, support agriculture, promote and support eco-tourism and in so doing create an environment for investment. We don’t need fracking.” Someone commented from the floor “We are not prepared to lose our whole catchment for 200 jobs.”
Bobby Peek of groundWork opened the meeting with a bit of background.
Fracking was first proposed for the Karoo in 2013. The Karoo statement in 2014 said ‘no’ to fracking. In October 2015, Rhino Oil & Gas put forward the first application for exploration of unconventional gas in the Matatiele region, necessitating an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) undertaken by their appointed EIA Practitioner, SLR Consulting. This was followed by a further eleven applications over large parts of the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Free State. Opposition to these applications united people from all over South Africa towards one common goal, a Frack Free South Africa.
Particularly pressing, was the fact that the Environmental Impact Assessment Report for an exploration licence in the Matatiele region, where we were gathered, had already been handed to PASA and in 107 days a decision will be made that could irreversibly change the Umzimvubu Catchment Area. Comment from the floor “Can anyone afford to buy bottled water for their livestock?”
The Umzimvubu Catchment Partnership brings a wide range of stakeholders together to work towards agrarian reform, protection of the water catchment and restoration of rangeland, food security and the promotion of renewable energy among local communities. This is a positive model that demonstrates a sustainable alternate to economic security that does NOT involve mining.
Desmond D’Sa inspired everyone with his impassioned presentation:
“Our presence, our unity, our understanding of the struggle helps us to grow. Our presence here frightens those big players.”
Unity is something that takes time. Environmentalists need to talk openly and have frank discussions. It’s very important that all voices are given the opportunity to come together. Even small voices must be heard. Everybody matters. That’s how we develop a society. Unity is so important. We need to cross the road that divides us, make friends with neighbors and build trust.
The United Nations has been captured by big business. It’s all just about money. But we are important, we are human beings concentrating on our issues. Mining is a curse, it is not benefiting anyone, people are dying. Fracking is being claimed as clean energy. That’s a lie. Coming together we are part of an international struggle.
It is critical that we continue to build and carry on the struggle and listen to one another and share information. We have a common struggle. It’s never just local, it’s worldwide. How do we link our local struggle to the international struggle? Solutions lie with us. We know the land and we need to fight for it. Once you kill the soil you can’t fix it. Let’s not be fooled by these powerful people. They control the world and ordinary people never benefit out of it. Only by working together, will the solutions for the future can be found. We can stop these people.
Delegates from across South Africa reported on the struggles they faced:
In the Karoo, the Baviaans Municipality heard about fracking. They engaged with NGO’s asking what it was and what the negative impacts were. Shell started to have public meetings but they could not give the people the assurance that it would be safe. It is a big area and it was important to meet together and share information. Various groups including the Church played a big role in raising awareness. Government did not engage with communities. Shell promised job creation but the reality is that they will bring in skilled people from elsewhere. Public meetings were disrupted and could not continue. A moratorium on fracking exploration was imposed. Leaders went to visit Gold mines in Gauteng and Coal mines in Mpumalanga and took this information back to their communities. Uranium mining is now also proposed for the area.
A few years ago the Umzimvubu Catchment Partnership, a network of organisations with the aim to rehabilitate the catchment, was formed. We work with all roleplayers and include all Government Departments. There was a Council decision to adopt the catchment as a water factory. The mission is to promote Matatiele as an environment for tourism and agricultural investment. With the application for exploration Rhino Oil and Gas went to the Municipal Manager and communities to speak about development and jobs. The Chiefs are active members of the partnership. A meeting was held with Contralesa explained the dangers of fracking. These threats were not put forward by Rhino Oil and Gas who said 20 jobs would be available. They did not mention future degradation. The Petroleum Association of South Africa (PASA), the regulator makes the final decision. Will this be done without considering the community’s concerns. A Chief of the traditional council said that Rhino Oil and Gas must talk to the people through him. The Chief told them to leave their water and land alone and go away. Other concerns we have include language barriers, all the documents are in English. PASA has not responded to any communication. Rhino Oil and Gas communicated via radio to publicize the meetings.
Around Melmoth in Zululand, people were not compensated for their land taken for mining. They were promised schools and training. It was hard for the people to raise their voices. Promises were made that were not kept. Money was given to pro-mining members of the community to fund soccer teams. Rural development projects were awarded to pro-mining community members. The chief was made director of the mining company. Tractors and vehicles were given to prominent members of the community to show other community members how mining would bring a better life. The government doesn’t listen to what people are saying. Tourism is undermined by mining activity.
Xolobeni dune mine proposals – When the mining company came to tell us about their proposal we said, “Take us there”. They talked a lot, they gave people money. The traditional court said that they were bribing us. We didn’t want to see the mine, we wanted to speak with the affected communities. We saw the houses had cracks, dust on the washing, the school kids got sick. We saw what mining does, we don’t want it on our land. Fracking is a massive onslaught over a huge area whereas mining involves single areas and affected communities often isolated from the rest of the country.
“You have to walk the talk – our communities need to understand what to do. It is time we as people of the world decide what kind of world we want our children to grow up in.”
In groups, problems were discussed, common issues mapped and ideas for strategies brainstormed. Everyone agreed that usually, false promises are made to improve schools, offer training and jobs, remunerate Chiefs and improve basic services.
what are the struggles?
- Benefits are given to those who are pro-mining – this splits the community
- Capture of traditional leadership
- Tourism undermined
- Government refuses to provide services unless we allow mining
- Officials don’t listen to what people
- Trusts are set up linked to pro-mining influence – this takes away the rights of people
- Costs are externalized, land and culture cannot be fixed after it is destroyed
- Mines control the water
what do we want to save?
- Self determination
- Grazing land for livestock
- Our livelihoods – lifestyles
- Cultural fabric
Sinegugu Zukulu shared the lessons that he had learnt as an environmental activist.
- Traditional leadership is the first target.
- Government sways the Traditional leadership to rubberstamp its wishes. We need to engage with Traditional leaders to get them on our side.
- Politicians want to make decisions on your behalf, they don’t like it when you say no.
- Government does not want to listen to people on the ground. You need to know exactly what you want on your land.
- Document the struggle, record everything because they will later deny everything.
- Have an alternative.
- Engage the young people.
- Let the people tell their story in their own language.
- The rural people are not poor, they have their land and their livestock.
- Get musicians and artists to carry your message.
- Always double check your information.
- Engage the authorities in your own environment.
- Get someone to document your story.
One evening, Joseph Oesi screened his moving documentary – Black Lives Matter – which explores how the mineral wealth, rightfully belonging to the people of South Africa, has been sold to capitalist interests for the enrichment of a few elite and at the expense of the country and how traditional communities have been divided in this process.
The movie generated much discussion around the problem with South African leadership – where traditional leaders are ‘captured’ and learn the ways of the ‘big fish’. Communities are not better off because of the extractive industry where only the elite become richer and often there is a huge amount of conflict at community level which remains unseen.
It is important to celebrate the good things in a community, to hold cultural festivals, remind the community about traditional seeds and how to keep the productivity of the land, to give women the chance to be heard. It is also important to be aware of the new legislation being mooted to give traditional leaders absolute authority over the people’s wishes.
Susan Carter-Brown got everyone up to speed on the EIA process, including the importance of registering as an IAP, communicating concerns in writing and keeping copies and most importantly – being persistent. Some real problems with the EIA process:
- EIA Reports are too big and too complex to understand
- The law is pro-extraction not people
- Timeframes set for process makes proper engagement with report impossible
Warren Confait of Renen Energy and Judy Bell facilitated a session on meeting our real energy and development needs with alternative energy and land use options to supplement fossil fuels. Visits to inspiring local examples followed the discussions. First to an off-grid homestead near Cedarville with solar, wind and gas. Here we observed an energy generation mix that does not rely on fossil fuels, including affordable materials, local innovations and creativity.
Then to visit a home-based biogas home-made design mini system in Nchodu Village near Maluti. Here participants were also able to see the wetlands and rangeland grazing that fall in the exploration target area. The group observed that it was possible to produce energy from carbon neutral sources, that there are cheaper alternatives, that alien invasive plants can have value. Biogas an appropriate technology for rural areas as it is cheap, accessible, clean, low entry cost, formal education is not needed and ideal for communities that are dependent on natural resources that can be used for energy production.
We all want to live without destruction, we want clean rivers, a healthy and safe environment, connection to the land and youth skills development linked to the green economy. No need for fracking.
During the final part of the programme, everyone worked on the development of the Matatiele Manifesto as a community response from the people of South Africa to protect land, water and livelihoods from mining and the threat of hydraulic fracturing.
On Wednesday 5th of October the Matatiele Manifesto was ratified and presented to Local Politicians, Traditional Authorities, relevant Government Departments and local Politicians, including ACDP Member of Parliament Cheryllyn Dudley who pledged to get the Fracking issue on the National Assembly agenda.
“It is very important that small irritating voices be given the opportunity to come together,” said someone as everyone headed back to their communities, “together we can win this.”