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'This is all of our struggle': Shell, Wild Coast residents battle it out in court to stop seismic blasting

Protesters gathered at Shell Petrol Station on Paradise Road (M3) to protest the planned 3D seismic survey along the West Coast. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Protesters gathered at Shell Petrol Station on Paradise Road (M3) to protest the planned 3D seismic survey along the West Coast. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Dec 20, 2021


Cape Town - On the back of the protest action across the country against Shell’s seismic blasting along the Wild Coast, a second urgent interdict to stop the blasting was heard at the Grahamstown High Court on Friday by Judge Gerald Bloem.

The case lasted seven hours.

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The application was brought by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and Richard Spoor Attorneys on behalf of small-scale fishing and coastal communities in Amadiba, Dwesa-Cwebe, Port St Johns and Kei Mouth after the previous urgent interdict was denied.

While the seismic blasting began earlier this month, vested groups and organisations hoped they would get a positive outcome on Friday after the judge said he would be reserving his judgment until further notice – despite Shell advocate Adrian Friedman’s insistence that the final matter and determination be concluded immediately to avoid further litigation.

Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC said numerous leading experts confirmed the blasting would cause significant and irreparable harm to marine life in the affected area and would affect the livelihoods, constitutional rights and customary rights (including customary fishing rights) of coastal communities.

Ngcukaitobi argued that Shell had not adequately consulted with affected communities when it obtained its Exploration Right eight years ago, or obtained environmental authorisation under the National Environmental Management Act (Nema) for the seismic blasting.

“These omissions render Shell’s seismic blasting unlawful and invalid,” said Ngcukaitobi.

Friedman, together with Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s advocate, Olav Ronaasen, argued the Environmental Management Programme report (EMPr) they obtained was an efficient environmental authorisation issued under Nema, and maintained that there was no evidence of harm to marine life.

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Friedman said the communities’ objections regarding the impact of the seismic survey on marine life were “speculative” and that the claims of cultural and spiritual harm were merely “subjective”.

Small-scale women fishers from f Dwesa-Cwebe rely on the ocean for their livelihoods.

Natural Justice programme manager and attorney Melissa Groenink said it was remarkable Shell could come to court and simply dismiss the evidence of experts about the harm to marine life, ecology and community livelihoods.

Amid the heated proceedings, Mantashe was roasted for his statement suggesting the communities opposing Shell’s seismic survey had a “colonial and racist agenda”.

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In response, the Wild Coast fishing communities of Dwesa-Cwebe, Port St Johns and Amadiba wrote a scathing open letter to Mantashe and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy for the apparent ignorance shown by Mantashe regarding how many traditional, subsistence and small-scale fishers depend on the sea for their livelihoods.

Port St John leader Ntsindiso Nongcavu said: “Minister Mantashe insults us when he implies that the fight to protect our oceans, our source of livelihood, from corporations like Shell is only the struggle of white environmentalists.

“This is all of our struggle.”

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Small-scale fishers from Dwesa-Cwebe rely on the ocean for their livelihoods.

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Cape Argus