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Tourism must deliver to save Wild Coast

Published Dec 14, 2003

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Durban - Those who vehemently oppose the proposed mining of coastal dunes on the Eastern Cape's Wild Coast need to start delivering on tourism initiatives if they hope to scupper plans to mine in the area.

The European Union has allocated over R100 million to develop tourism in the area, but little has happened as national, provincial and local governments fail to agree on a development model.

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Christopher Ngcwele, the chairman of the development committee for the Mphaslane area and deputy chairperson of the Amadiba Coastal Community Trust, says: "Tourism development in this area is very slow, which is opening the gate for the enemy."

Australian company Mineral Commodities has completed prospecting for heavy minerals at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast and in March will apply to for a licence to mine along a 22km stretch of coast over a 25-year period.

Prospecting at Xolobeni has identified a potential resource of 16 million tons of heavy minerals and 8 million tons of ilmenite. Alan Luscombe, the chief executive of Mineral Commodities, says this site is among the biggest mineral sand deposits in the world.

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The impoverished community of Xolobeni, who reside in this windswept, remote and neglected area of the Eastern Cape, sustain themselves through subsistence farming and social grants. Development is desperately needed.

Those against the mining project say tourism is more sustainable in the long term and will create more jobs than the 100 direct jobs that mining would generate in this area.

Current ecotourism activities are limited to horse trails along the coastal dunes. Luscombe claims that both eco-tourism activities and mining can co-exist. This idea has been rejected by many who say that visitors to the area, who are seeking tranquillity and beauty, will be able see and hear the mining.

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An objection to mining and the proposed rerouting of the N2 toll road between Durban and East London is that the area is internationally recognised as a biodiversity treasure.

The approval by the department of environmental affairs and tourism for the upgrading and rerouting of the toll-road is viewed as de facto permission for the mining of the coastal dunes in certain sections of the wild coast to go ahead.

The rerouting of the road will facilitate the transport of minerals to a smelter in East London.

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Plans to declare Pondoland a national park have been scrapped by the national government.

Mava Scott, a deputy director at the department of environmental affairs and tourism, says a national park would not be declared. "We are now looking at alternative conservation models."

Scott says the decision not to declare Pondoland a national park as well as the approval of the toll road have nothing to do with the proposed mining.

The new road, however, means that one potential impediment to mining in the area has been done away with, making it all the more urgent for tourism to start delivering jobs and growth.

Luscombe says that he expected the government to take a year to make a decision on the mining.

If the $202 million project gets the green light, mining would begin in 2006 after the engineering design is completed and a new smelter is built in East London.

Cathy Kay, of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, says tourism needed to start delivering.

"Why can't we have 22km of preserved coastline which people will kill to visit because it is so wild?" Kay says.

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