Cape Town - A high court ruling which immediately halted Shell’s seismic survey off the Wild Coast on Tuesday has been greeted with joy by environmental activists, community organisations, fishing communities and citizens.
The Makhanda High Court’s ruling follows a hearing on December 17 by Judge Gerald Bloem after weeks of protests over the impact of the survey on marine life as Shell sought to explore the ocean floor for oil and gas.
Judge Bloem’s ruling has now halted that exploration with immediate effect.
The application was brought by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and Richard Spoor Attorneys on behalf of small-scale fishing and coastal communities in Amadiba, Dwesa-Cwebe, Port St Johns and Kei Mouth after a previous urgent interdict was denied.
Despite the fact these coastal communities lived around and relied on the Wild Coast for their livelihoods, sustenance and traditional practices, they were excluded from consultation processes for the approval to conduct the survey and insufficient environmental impact assessments were conducted to determine the impact of the survey.
At the open court judgment, Judge Bloem said Shell was under duty to meaningfully consult with the communities and individuals who would be impacted by its seismic survey, and that based on the evidence, Shell failed to do so in the case of the applicant communities who held customary rights, including fishing rights.
The judge also found that the exploration right acquired was invalid and the applicants’ right to meaningful consultation constituted a prima facie right which deserved to be protected by way of an interim interdict.
LRC attorney Wilmien Wicomb said: “This case is really a culmination of the struggle of communities along the Wild Coast for the recognition of their customary rights to land and fishing, and to respect for their customary processes.
“The Amadiba and Dwesa-Cwebe communities fought for such recognition in earlier cases, and the Makhanda High Court reminded the state and Shell today, once again, that the indigenous rights of communities are protected by the Constitution from interference, no matter how powerful the intruders are,” said Wicomb.
In the judgment, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Manatshe and BG International was instructed to cover the costs of the application for the interim interdict.
Reacting to the judgment, Amadiba Crisis Committee member Nonhle Mbuthuma said coastal communities had relied on the sea for centuries and they were glad that the judge recognised that their ocean livelihoods should not be sacrificed for short-term profit.
Another member and coastline resident Siyabonga Ndovela said: “Our sea is not for sale, our land is not for sale. The sea is not about money, it’s about lives, all different ways of living, connectedness with the ocean and with the coastline. It’s our time to protect our coastline.”
Project 90 by 2030 and African Climate Alliance spokesperson Gabriel Klaasen said the ruling was a massive win for many organisations, groups, individuals, and communities who over the past few months have been advocating that awareness was built around Shell’s damaging blasting on the Wild Coast.
Extinction Rebellion Cape Town spokesperson Michael Wolf hailed the ruling as a milestone in the fight for ocean protection and for a sustainable and equitable future.
In welcoming the ruling, Green Connection strategic lead Liz McDaid said although the matter would go to court in the new year, the interdict was a significant victory.
In response to the court’s ruling, the department said: “The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy respects the traditional and customary rights of communities and will seek to protect them while simultaneously ensuring that much needed investment, which is urgently required for our economy and energy needs, is fully supported.
“The Department will therefore continue to participate in Part B of these proceedings by filling papers in due course.”