By Gugu Mbonambi

The construction of a multi-billion rand Transnet pipeline from Durban to Joburg has ground to a halt after residents of Adams Mission, near Amanzimtoti, protested that the pipeline posed a health and safety hazard.

The multipurpose pipeline - which runs from Island View, through the south of Durban to Joburg - is designed to carry refined petroleum products, such as diesel, petrol and jet fuel. The project was expected to be completed in 2013 at a cost of R15,42-billion.

The delay could add extra costs as Transnet negotiates its way around the problem.

Construction started in October, but stopped at Adams Mission after protests from locals. One of the residents, who would not be named, said Transnet officials "took us for a ride" because of the high level of illiteracy in the community.

"We were told it would be a small pipe and that we would be consulted before the contractor began work. But when I came home one afternoon, a bulldozer had damaged my fence and vegetables, and there were huge pipes running through our yards," she said.

Some residents had been paid amounts from R3 000 to R6 000 for damaged crops.

Transnet gave residents an 11-page "temporary servitude agreement" to sign, but they refused.

"We don't understand these documents they are making us sign, and we didn't know that these pipes will be transporting diesel and fuel. What if somebody tries to extend their home and unknowingly digs where these pipes are laid? The entire community could be wiped out in the explosion," the woman said.

Residents said that at a meeting last week Transnet had said it would pay them for affected portions of their land and damage to property, but the parastatal had reneged on its promises.

"Our houses are beginning to crack because of the constant digging Transnet must take their pipes and find an alternate route far from our homes," an angry resident shouted.

Community activists said the project should be halted until the environmental impact assessment process had been completed and violations of provisions of the National Environmental Management Act were corrected.

Desmond D'Sa, chairman of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said the pipeline impacted on large tracts of land and posed environmental and health threats in the form of leaks.

"When the existing pipeline is decommissioned it will be filled with an anti-corrosive saline solution and left. This implies the same will happen to the new pipeline when it is no longer usable. If there is flooding, erosion, or other problems, the pipeline could develop a leak, destroying water sources and the soil," he said.

D'Sa said no social impact study had been done and people had been unable to attend meetings held by Transnet, or were unaware that these were being held.

"It is necessary that Transnet physically walk the pipeline route to inform all those potentially affected. If Transnet can build on and pass dangerous fuels through land adjacent to people's homes, then they can take the time to inform them of it. The Clairwood area has not been engaged by Transnet in public participation, despite the fact that the pipeline is projected to pass through a boundary at a secondary school and through residential areas."

Lilian Develing, of the Combined Ratepayers' Association, said the pipeline running through the north of Durban had developed underground leaks. "These took some time to discover, causing damage to grazing, and animals had to be moved."

Transnet spokesman Mboniso Sigonyela said the project was in the national interest and had been approved by the National Energy Regulator of SA and the Environmental Affairs Department.

"More than 95 percent of the pipe from Durban to Jameson Park, near Heidelberg, has been laid," he said.

"The route evaluation process formed part of the EIA process and a final route was chosen based on technical, constructibility, environmental impact, and social and economic impacts," he said.

Sigonyela said residents had been consulted during the EIA phase, and claims could be made for damage.