Wild Coast communities slam Mantashe over ‘insulting’ oil and gas talks with traditional leaders

Minister Gwede Mantashe this week consulted with traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape about the development of oil and gas.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24

Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24

Wild Coast communities say they feel insulted after Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe did not include them in consultations about the development of oil and gas this week.

Earlier this week, Mantashe’s department issued an advisory indicating he would be engaging with traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape between February and March. The engagements are to provide clarity and find solutions to challenges in developing the upstream petroleum industry – which involves the exploration of oil and gas.

Wild Coast communities and civil society organisations have opposed exploration through seismic surveys – which involve using airguns to send pulses of sound into water, to map out the seabed to detect oil and gas resources.

In December, the Makhanda High Court ruled in favour of Wild Coast communities seeking to block oil and gas company Shell’s seismic survey. The interim interdict is in place, pending a separate legal challenge of Shell’s environmental authorisation for the project.

Judge Gerald Bloem said that the consultation process Shell followed was “flawed”, rendering the exploration right for the project “unlawful and invalid”. Bloem further raised concerns over the negative impact of the survey on marine life.

Minister Mantashe has defended the seismic survey and has said the majority of potential impacts that were assessed to have “very low significance.”

Mantashe has further hit out at legal challenges of exploration, saying that they were effectively killing investment.

Representatives of coastal communities and civil society organisations, however, have not taken kindly to Mantashe’s subsequent plans to engage leaders of the AmaGcaleja and AbaThembu traditional councils this week. They have questioned whether this is a democratic process.

Nonhle Mbuthuma, spokesperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC), said in a statement that it was communities who brought the legal challenge against Shell and government last year, and not traditional leaders. The ACC was formed by villagers of Xolobeni, in the Wild Coast, back in 2007, to prevent a proposed titanium mine in the area.

“… We demand that our government not undermine communities, but to respect communities. When there are developments proposed, government must consult communities. It is part of the Constitution, and therefore they cannot ignore us,” said Mbuthuma.

Mbuthuma argued that Mantashe’s decision to consult traditional leaders was a “top-down” approach.