GroundUp (Cape Town)

8 August 2014

South Africa: Someone Needs to Stop Sanral

The SA National Roads Agency, already under investigation after the brutal eviction of Lwandle residents from SANRAL land in June, is facing furious residents from six Eastern Cape villages who are adamant they were misled about the new Wild Coast toll road, writes Mzamo Dlamini.

In October 2013, Nazir Alli, the CEO of SANRAL, visited the coastal Amadiba community in Sigidi and Mdatya, two of the six villages on the Wild Coast under the Amadiba Traditional Authority.

The two village communities had joined a high court application to have the environmental authorisation set aside for the construction of the N2 short cut through their ancestral lands because of concerns about the social, cultural and environmental impact of the proposed road.

Mr Alli aimed to persuade the communities to withdraw their application, so that the construction could proceed without further delay. He promised residents that all their concerns would be fully addressed. In spite of requests to do so by the residents, he did not put his promises in writing. But he did organise, at SANRAL's expense, a trip to the Viedgesville community near Mthatha in November 2013 to show leaders of the Amadiba community that SANRAL takes great care to prevent economic, environmental or other damage from the Wild Coast N2 Toll Road.

When we got to Viedgesville, we were introduced to a group of local people who Sanral organised who told us that everything about the N2 road upgrade had been good for the communities. It turned out these people had benefited from the building of the road as subcontractors and community liaison officers.

We came back unconvinced and we decided to find out for ourselves.

We also refused Mr Alli's request for a written undertaking to retract our court case.

A few months later, independently of Sanral, we managed a trip to communities affected by the N2 outside Mthatha.

In the delegation were people not only from Mdatya and Sigidi but also from Mtentu, Mpindweni, Mtolani and Lurholweni villages, which will also be affected by the new N2 route.

When we arrived a group of ordinary community members who are affected by the road construction were gathering at the headman's house waiting for us. At the beginning of the talks, they were about 30. At the end of the talks the number had doubled.

In summary, this is what the local residents told us:

Some residents whose houses had been destroyed for the toll road were in good new houses but other new houses were cracking. Some houses had not been finished.

Some of the old houses had electricity but none of the new houses had electricity.

All attempts to get SANRAL or its contractors to address complaints about the new houses had been in vain.

- In several cases, the drainage pipes from the new N2 road had been placed so that excess water flooded into the house and/or into the garden, destroying the growing of food. All attempts to make SANRAL or its contractors to address these problems had been in vain.

- When the road was built, tons and tons of gravel had been sourced from land near the stretch of the road. This work had started without the owner being notified and continued without his approval until his whole land was destroyed. A vast area was first turned into a big hole and then into a stone landscape. He and his family had grown their food on this land for 100 years. He had been offered R11,000 as compensation, which he had refused to accept and challenged in court, but he could not afford good lawyers to fight his case. SANRAL had refused to pay reasonable compensation for the destruction of his livelihood.

- In some cases people had been told to move their belongings and tear down their houses to make way for the N2. They had complied. Later, the route had been changed but their property had been destroyed.They had been told that no compensation would be paid.

- When SANRAL moved graves, nobody had seen any cattle being slaughtered, in spite of demands from the community and promises made by SANRAL.

- Vibrations from heavy machinery and blasting had damaged some homes but all efforts to get compensation from SANRAL had failed.

- Before the work started, SANRAL had promised that there would be many jobs for locals during construction. This promise had not been kept. When we visited we found two locals among hundreds of workers on the site.

- SANRAL had promised to pay for the higher education of children but this promise had not been kept.

SANRAL had promised to improve schools and health facilities but this promise had not been kept.

- One underpass for cattle was built by SANRAL in a place chosen by the engineers, not by the locals. Locals said it was too small and dangerous for cattle.

- No bridges had been built for pedestrians, though the road was very big and the cars travel very fast. It was impossible for children and old people to cross during some periods and parents now had to hire bakkies to transport their children to school. Locals said if they had been consulted they would have suggested robots.

- Compensation for relocations had been limited to R5,000.

In April, we reported back on this fact finding mission to a well-attended meeting at Komkhulu.

We also reported that some correspondence had been received from SANRAL by attorney Cormac Cullinan claiming that he no longer had a valid mandate to represent the community because the CEO of SANRAL had sorted out differences he had with communities objecting to the road.

The community was furious to hear this, because no agreement between them and SANRAL had been made.

All six villages now support the court challenge to the N2 road in our area.

But we are concerned that the Viedgesville community is suffering and Mr Alli must be questioned about his false assurances and the misleading impressions he gave, and be made to listen to the community's concerns.

Mzamo Dlamini is a community leader.

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