By Kholwani Simelane
It has been 28 years since we entered the dawn of democracy, and yet I await a good story to tell about this freedom that we have been promised. South Africa still remains the most unequal country in the world, which says a lot about its society.
July is Mandela Month, a month that gives everyone the opportunity to heed the call to action, for people to recognise their individual power to make an impact and change the world around them. This stems from the individual who is honoured during this auspicious month for most South Africans. Nelson Mandela stood for justice, equality, accountability, dignity and fought for the betterment of solidarity.
This means race should never be a barrier to accessibility of anything. This should mean I can study anywhere I want to. It means I can access proper health care anywhere. It means that I should be able to express my views in a respectful manner. It also means that I should be able to fish traditionally and responsibly, as my forefathers did, and that I should have a say when someone wants to profit from undertaking projects that could negatively impact the source of living that feeds my family and community.
Even if I would allow such to happen, which I doubt, I would need to be provided with an opportunity to participate meaningfully in decision-making processes that affect me and my community. In order to do so, I would need to know the impact of proposed offshore oil and gas activities.
On December 28 2021, the Grahamstown High Court in Makhanda granted an interim interdict, ordering Shell to immediately cease its seismic blasting along South Africa’s Wild Coast, which to me is a symbol of hope, where beyond making a profit, we can sympathise and realise the importance of our oceans, in order for us to survive.
Without a healthy ocean, some people cannot sustain their livelihoods by feeding their families. Without a healthy ocean, some people cannot perform certain rituals that have been prescribed by people’s belief systems. Without a healthy ocean, we would never have vacations with family and see the beautiful waves and sounds of comfort the oceans gives us.
In 2021, Searcher attempted to gain access to the West Coast ocean to conduct 3D seismic surveys searching for oil and gas. Searcher was forced to stop the 3D seismic survey after an interim interdict was granted in favour of people who used the constitutional legacy that Mandela left us to assert their right to have their say.
Searcher has returned and is now conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment to obtain authorisation.
Searcher is required to engage with interested and affected parties and afford them a meaningful opportunity to comment on the proposed activity, and the government decision-makers are required to take our comments into consideration.
I wonder why Searcher wants to come into our oceans to search for fossil oil and gas, notwithstanding the global climate change crisis and the potential negative impacts such activities can have on marine ecosystems and those who depend on the oceans for their livelihoods (such as small-scale fishers and fishing-dependent communities). I would still choose the ocean over oil.
Just as Tata Madiba fought for our freedom during apartheid, I will fight for the ocean. One of the things the Madiba era gave us was constitutional rights, but some of his contemporaries seem determined to undermine those hard won rights.
* Simelane is Advocacy Officer at The Green Connection.