The public had to wait until learners finished writing their Matric exams in the hall hired for the Rhino Oil & Gas meeting in Matatiele in November 2015. Lots of locals turned up including farmers and farm workers, officials of the DEA and Eastern Cape, and many of the learners stayed on after their exams.
Matthew Hemming of SLR facilitated the meeting in English. He introduced Phillip Steyn who is applying for the Exploration Right for 120 000ha in the Umzimvubu Catchment, explaining that this work would entail an aerial survey, 125 km of seismic surveys (either dynamite of vibration) and 10 core wells – each the size of a tennis court.
Phillip’s presentation (also in English) was too technical and was not understood by most of the audience. Sinegugu Zukhulu spoke in isiXhosa “If someone comes here, they need to speak the language!” He demanded another meeting be held as this one was deliberately excluding people from the process. Sinegugu also dismissed their claims that they would not necessarily frack, but simply wanted to explore to see if oil and gas was present,with “You cannot promise to get engaged and pay lobolo for someone who does not want to marry you!” he said.
Someone mentioned that fracking was banned in 180 countries. The Environmental Protection Agency has warned that fracking could contaminate groundwater, but Phillip was adamant that Rhino would be able to safely extract the gas. Nicky McLeod pointed out that Matatiele relies on groundwater and asked how they would ensure it was not contaminated with drilling additives, and what chemicals did they use? Phillip responded saying “it is just water we use”, but then admitted he was not sure and would respond later. A farmer from the Cedarville flats told Phillip that the water in the boreholes change temperature within one day of there being snow on the Drakensberg, and Gerrie Nel pointed out that the water levels rise in the same period. Clearly any contamination would have a far reaching impact, affecting the water and the future of the citizens of the area.
Traditional leader MrMakhuma expressed his disappointment that people from rural areas would need to leave the meeting by 12 in order to reach home before dark and asked that meetings beheld in the rural areas rather than in town. Did Rhino know that the Charmaine area had a fault line? “You should take a drive and see through our eyes and not your city eyes.” Mrs Mngwadi, who was born in the area, said that the process was not consultative. “We won’t give you information as we have a history of being undermined. Rural people are the victims of this process. Our slogan is Nothing in Our Area Without Us! We want sustainable development, not this mining.”
A student asked how her future would be affected by this project, pointing out that the people of the Witwatersrand were now coping with Acid Mine Drainage. She asked who employed the Environmental Consultants (the mining company) and who would assess the EIA (PASA) and quickly came to the realisation that “it is like me marking my own exams!”
A young man stood up “Our parents work on the farms to give us a better future and their jobs will be at risk from this.” Dr Lebohang, who practices locally “We don’t understand why you don’t understand NO.” He pointed out that the previous meeting between Rhino and indunas, that did not include the Chief of the area, to talk about issues that were pertinent to his land, caused much pain. “You do not know how to do things properly in this area. You should go home and get your mothers to change you nappies. Go back to Cape Town and drink water from a bottle.”
“We came home from Durban after being sick of the smell of the oil. You have no respect for us of for our futures. All you talk about is job creation but not a word about the death sentence. We walked in the mountains and drank from fountains as children, we want the same for our grandchildren.”
Joyce Loza of Ezemvelo was surprised that there had been no consultation with the Transfrontier Park authorities. “If you had asked, you would know this area is a water factory. You need to go back to the Department of Mining and tell them this is not going to happen. They should have spoken to us beforehand.”
Phillip and Matthew were both unable to provide satisfactory answers to the many and varied questions from the well informed audience. Sinegugu Zukhulu “You are unable to provide answers but you are meant to enlighten us. This is like asking us to buy a pig in a sack without opening it. When we do, we discover it is a cat.”
Environmental practitioner Sissie Matela expressed her disappointment at the process. “Before I meet with the public, I find out all the relevant information, so I can answer properly, unlike you. You have no respect for us, so you should not be here.”
Chief Lebenya had the final word “Why have you not asked permission to come onto my land? Pack your bags and leave. Habashwe!” and everyone left, which is the traditional manner – the Chief has the last word.
In February 2016, UCPP (Umzimvubu Catchment Partnership) hosted a meeting in Matatiele, with about 25 local stakeholders, including Chief Lebenya and his Royal Bakoena Traditional Council Trust, DEDEAT, farmers, local vets, LIMA, EWT, ERS, Tourism Assoc, lawyers and Matatiele local council.
Rhino/SLR Consulting are using ‘divide and rule tactics’. Some Chiefs have been chasing them away as they (SLR) can’t answer their questions satisfactorily. They tried to ‘persuade’ Chief Lebenya, and he told them ‘I am not me, I am my people. Get lost’. He also told them they have no respect, and if they want to arrange a session with his people / traditional council, he needs at least 14 days notice. We will request them to withdraw the application, and nullify the Umzimvbubu/EC target zone on the SA map for any further exploration, as it is incompatible with water security and resilience. Cllr Mnika stated that most councillors and the Matat Speaker are opposed to the Rhino application, as it directly threatens the water factory concept, with unacceptable risks to water and agricultural security.
The DEA restoration investments in upper catchment (over R50 million to date, plus the Ntabelanga dam on Tsita which rises in the western end of the 295ER target zone) would be nullified by fracking.