JOHANNESBURG - The judicial review of the SA National Road Agency’s (Sanral) realignment of the N2 along the Pondoland Wild Coast, has been welcomed by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).
The organisation said the review followed civil action over 16 years by the local community that had tirelessly resisted Sanral’s bullying tactics.
The case commenced in the Pretoria High Court last week before Judge Cynthia Pretorius.
Wayne Duvenage, the chief executive of Outa, said the long-awaited review of the environmental authorisation on what appeared to be an extremely unpopular scheme was long overdue and taking place at a time when the country could hardly afford further wasteful expenditure.
Duvenage was hopeful the case would highlight the serious consequences arising from the lack of meaningful community engagement and expose the real beneficiaries of this costly decision.
However, Vusi Mona, a spokesperson for Sanral, highlighted that the.first and second respondents in the case were actually the Minister and Department of Environmental Affairs, and Sanral the third respondent.
Mona said the applicants’ lawyers were seeking to overturn the positive record of decision (RoD) granted by the Department of Environmental Affairs for the project and not seeking to amend the route.
Outa added it had noted the statement by Richard Spoor, the attorney for the applicant, Sinegugu Zukulu, that “regardless of the outcome, the project is headed for disaster at huge cost to the taxpayer” and that Sanral’s mishandling of local communities was “at the heart of the matter” because it had been “arrogant, contemptuous, manipulative and dishonest in their dealings with them”.
Duvenage said this was history repeating itself.
“Just as we saw on the Gauteng e-toll matter, it would appear that Sanral has overlooked its obligations to Section 195 of the Constitution, which requires it to promote ‘a high standard of professional ethics’ and ‘respond to people’s needs’ and ‘provide the public with timely accessible and accurate information’,” he said.
Duvenage was also critical of Sanral’s “attrition through lawfare” tactics of bringing interlocutory applications, which had delayed the commencement of the proceedings and been compounded by a display of arrogance in Sanral’s decision to start construction of the access roads to the sites before the judge had ruled if the scheme was lawful or not.
“Fortunately, Sanral’s attempts to squash the case have failed and the beleaguered SOE [state-owned enterprise] now faces the prospect of having to halt the scheme if the High Court finds in favour of Zukulu and the community residents."
Duvenage claimed Sinegugu and the community had to work out exactly where the proposed new short cut route would be located because Sanral refused to make that information available.
Mona said the court case to challenge the granting of the RoD was only brought in 2012 and the first interlocutory case was for the court to condone that the challenge was brought well beyond the 180 days allowed in law.
He said Sanral had already started construction of the N2 Wild Coast Road when the court challenge was brought and consistently communicated with the lawyers representing the applicants that it would continue to construct the road unless the applicants obtained a court order to halt the project.
The applicants had never sought such a court order, he said.
Mona stressed the environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted in full compliance with the National Environmental Management Act and all relevant stakeholders in the Umgungundlovu community were engaged through a number of different channels during both the original 2001 and subsequent 2007 EIA processes.
He said Sanral had and continued to conduct extensive community and stakeholder consultation through various structures established specifically for this purpose, adding it had received overwhelming support from all provincial and local political leadership, traditional leadership, the local business chambers, various other stakeholders and affected communities along the route.
Mona said an independent 2015 Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) survey found 98.8 percent support level for the project from respondents from across Pondoland.
He claimed opposition to the project was far from widespread and limited to a relatively small number of residents in the Xolobeni area of Mbizana who incorrectly had directly linked the road to the proposed and controversial Xolobeni sand dune mine.
Mona said the Amadiba Traditional Authority that sat above the Umgungundlovu sub-authority and represented the entire Amadiba tribe had given its full support for the project as had all the elected local councillors.
“Outa’s contention of widespread local opposition to the project is therefore devoid of fact,” he said.
Mona confirmed construction on the Mtentu bridge was currently suspended due to protest action and labelled as "untrue" Outa's claim that Sinegugu and the community had to work out exactly where the proposed new shortcut route would be located.
The route was widely published on various maps during the EIA process and in detail in the Government Gazette, he said.