Sanral's next great scheme - a road through Pondoland that nobody wants

Posted 24 November 2016 Written by John GI Clarke
Category Human rights

SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) is fighting wars on multiple fronts. It attempts to toll the Cape Wineslands route was recently thrown out of the Cape High Court, while indigenous community members in Pondoland are resisting efforts to carve a new highway through closely-knit communities in the Eastern Cape. Many of the studies on which Sanral relies for motivating the so-called N2 Wild Coast route have been debunked by independent studies, but Sanral is determined to press ahead in apparent disregard for the local people and the Constitution, as social activist John Clarke points out in this article.

With respect to Sanral's appointment of an “independent oversight committee” to monitor environmental compliance along the green fields section of the proposed N2 Wild Coast Toll Road, Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC) urges the public to take note of the following facts. 

Nearly three years ago, residents from several local villages that will be affected by the road challenged the environmental authorisation of the new route in a formal judicial review. The High Court has not yet heard the case but Sanral seem intent on pressing ahead with the contracting and haul roads for two mega bridges costed at over R2.5 billion regardless of the great cost to the taxpayer, the impact on local social-cultural cohesion and to the environment should the Court find against them. That is already a shocking violation of legal obligations and disrespects a cardinal condition for the deepening of democracy, the Rule of Law.

The Pondoland Cultural Landscape was recently identified as one of the “Top Ten” endangered heritage sites by the South African Heritage Monitoring Project.  Sanral already suffers from a major credibility problem because of the arrogant attitude it has shown toward anyone who questions their schemes and methods.  The Heritage Monitoring Project is an inclusive participatory civil society initiative. Why is Sanral again treating civil society with such contempt?  

SWC recently commissioned an economic evaluation report authored by two respected transport economists Professor Gavin Maasdorp and Allen Jorgenson to reassess the current economic feasibility compared to Sanral’s 2008 Cost Benefit Analysis of the scheme. The report shows that, quite apart from the permanent environmental and social damage, the South African economy simply cannot afford this scheme. Sanral has so far completely ignored the findings of the report. Their disregard is a violation of Chapter 10 of the Constitution which states the values of principles that State-Owned Entities must honour. Sanral is required to “promote the efficient, economically and effective use of resources”, to “encourage the public to participate in policy making” to promote a “high standard of professional ethics” and be fully transparent in “providing the public access to information”. Sanral's conduct has been anything but.

How Sanral manipulates consent

Given the above, SWC Chair Margie Pretorius says Sanral’s methods of dealing with their critics is not just ‘propaganda’ but ‘impropaganda’. “Who is the so-called ‘independent chair’ of the committee? How were the so-named experts identified and selected? Why has Sustaining the Wild Coast never been invited to participate? After all we have on our board Prof Nicholas King, an internationally recognised environmental scientist and co-editor of a prescribed text book on environmental management in South Africa which includes the latest best practices in Environmental Impact Assessment. Prof King is unaware of any call having been made to the public, let alone into the professional sector for experts to sit on this panel. 

Pretorius says Sanral’s tactics are clearly aimed at pre-empting the Judiciary and conning the public with a false sense of legitimacy. "Ultimately this will reflect badly on Sanral when the High Court review commences and all the evidence of manipulated consent, fraudulent affidavits and gross co-option tactics emerge.  Sanral’s credit rating has already been downgraded and their nefarious tactics in other tolled road endeavours such as the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) and the Cape Winelands routes has been exposed. The only way they are going to revive their fortunes is to listen to their critics and show more than mere compliance, but positive commitment to constitutional values and principles.” 

Prof King, is highly sceptical of this latest move.  

New highway will slice through an ecologically senstive area 

“I have seen no call for suitably qualified candidates to participate go out in the professional sector such as the International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA-SA chapter). I have however heard that Sanral has contracted for a ‘search and rescue’ operation to identify endangered endemic plants that lie along the proposed route. So, is the job of the environmental monitoring committee to then ensure the Pondoland Centre of Endemism is ‘safely removed and captured’ into a ‘Pondoland Botanical Garden’? The Pondoland Centre of Endemism, underlain by and resulting from the unique Msikaba geological formation, and from which the socio-cultural landscapes have evolved accordingly, significantly defines the Wild Coast for what it is. Destroying the contiguity of this ecological system through a massive infrastructure project slicing through it like a surgeon’s knife dismembering a body will mean it will no longer be recognisable as the ‘Wild Coast’. Even if Sanral tries through a so-called ‘independent’ monitoring committee to convince its staff and the public otherwise, the scheme will result in the ‘Domesticated Coast’ - a veritable hodge-podge unplanned mess, just like stretches of the KZN Coast, and in the north, exploited by external extractive industries.”

Two bridges will cost taxpayer R2,5bn

Commenting on the Maasdorp Jorgensen report, SWC’s Communication Director John Clarke says was a sincere effort to try and shed light rather than generate more heat.
“Unlike Sanral we check our assumptions and beliefs with impartial and credible authorities.  The report clearly shows that the proposed 85 km “greenfields” section, which pivots on the construction of two mega bridges that will cost the taxpayer a breath-taking R2.5 billion, is not justified by the benefits and not worth the risks.  

“Who will be bearing the risks and carrying the costs?  Not Sanral’s board members and executives, but the taxpayers, and indirectly, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Given the dire state of our economy it amounts to an economic crime against the poor to spend such vast sums from the public purse on two bridges when so many other pressing infrastructure needs are unmet, including the very region through which this “high-speed through-route” will pass.  Local needs are for local roads, schools and clinics, not a massive by-pass”. 

Sanral will have to import foreign engineers to build bridges

Moreover, Sanral have admitted that foreign engineers have designed the bridges because South African engineers lack the experience and expertise.  
“It beggars belief that such high tech civil engineering ‘masterpieces’ will be forced on the Wild Coast. Even more flabbergasting is Sanral’s spin to then try and justify the bridges as having a humanitarian objective, says Clarke.  

The Maasdorp-Jorgensen report titled “The N2 Wild Coast Toll Road Today” can be downloaded here.

For an in-depth discussion with Margie Pretorius, and environmental attorney Cormac Cullinan see “Two Bridges Too Far: Why Mega Bridges on the Wild Coast are obscene” below: 


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