Durban - A senior government minister said work on the controversial N2 Wild Coast toll road would start in September next year – but has given no indication whether Durban motorists would still have to pay the lion’s share of funding a new road through the neighbouring Eastern Cape.
Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said in a media release on Friday: “We have made a decision. What we want to know now is where we are going to relocate people who have to make way for the road … we are left with 13 months before construction starts.”
However, plans to finance a new 80km section of the N2 along the remote Wild Coast by tolling motorists in Durban and on the South Coast have been opposed strongly by the eThekwini Municipality, the KZN provincial government and a coalition of large industries in South Durban.
The eThekwini Municipality repeated its opposition on Monday to a plan that would involve tolling up to 57 000 Durban motorists daily to cross-subsidise parts of the Wild Coast route.
Commenting on Nkwinti’s statement on Monday, the municipality’s communications head, Tozi Mthethwa, said: “The council resolution on this issue still stands. The resolution indicates that (the) council does not support any more tollgates within the metro region and this resolution has not been rescinded.”
Nkwinti, speaking last week in his capacity as chairman of the presidential infrastructure co-ordinating committee that is overseeing 18 strategic infrastructure projects across the country, made the announcement after a “public consultation meeting” at Bizana on Thursday.
Acknowledging that representatives of some Pondo communities remained opposed to the toll road and had launched high court action to stop the road, he said: “If court processes against the construction of the toll road persist, the project will start in 2017.”
His statement is the latest in a series of mixed messages from the government and the Sanral roads agency about a project that has been stalled in the starting blocks for more than a decade.
The original proposal was rejected in 2004 by former Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who ruled that the first environmental impact assessment (EIA) lacked independence because of its financial links to a private toll road consortium.
Following a second EIA, the toll road was approved by the Department of Environmental Affairs in 2010, but has been stalled since then following legal appeals by the Amadiba coastal community and other parties.
The South Durban Business Coalition also launched legal action to block the toll road after studies by transport consultant Gavin Maasdorp suggested that at least 31% of the total toll fees for the Wild Coast route would be collected from Durban commuters and businesses via the proposed Isipingo toll plaza.
Maasdorp said these Wild Coast toll fees excluded several additional mainline and ramp plazas proposed elsewhere on the South Coast.
It is understood that last October, just days before the business coalition challenge was due to go to court, Sanral gave an undertaking that there would be no new tolling on the N2 in KZN south of Durban. On that basis the matter was removed from the court roll.
Members of the Amadiba Tribal Authority are also challenging the toll plan in the high court, arguing that the toll road is being bulldozed through against their wishes.
The Amadiba Crisis Committee said in a statement on Monday that Nkwinti had deliberately excluded opponents of the toll road from the latest “consultation process” held in Bizana last week.
“No one here has been consulted on your plans, Minister Nkwinti. We have long been demanding answers, but with no response from the government or Sanral’s chief rascal, Nazir Alli.”
Crisis committee spokeswoman Nonhle Mbutuma said: “We will not move for mining or for the toll road.
“Sanral argues that this area is one of the poorest in the country … How can we be poor when we have the land. We grow maize, sweet potatoes, terro yams, potatoes, spinach, onions, carrots, lemons, guavas and we sell some of it to the market.
“We eat fish and we eat eggs and chicken. We have cattle for weddings and traditional rituals. We have goats for ceremonies. We are not a part of the ‘one out of four South Africans who go hungry to bed’. We have a life,” said Mbutuma, arguing that the proposed N2 toll road was intended to support plans by an Australian company to mine titanium and other minerals along the Wild Coast.
Nkwinti’s office did not respond to requests on Monday for clarity on whether the revised funding proposals had been finalised for the toll plan.
Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona said on Monday: “As you may be aware, the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road is part of the 18 strategic integrated projects overseen by the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Committee (PICC) – hence the pronouncement by Minister Gugile Nkwinti who chairs the south-eastern node and corridor development.
“The KZN part of the project has been put on ice until the funding issue has been resolved by the PICC.”