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Another Controversial African Highway

Another Controversial African Highway

 

You’ve probably heard of the Tanzanian government‘s recent decision to cancel plans for the construction of a new highway that would have bisected the Serengeti National Park, threatening the integrity of the site of one of the world’s largest, most famous and most important annual wildlife migrations. That was great news.

You’re less likely to have heard of another, perhaps less significant, but equally controversial plan to build a new highway on South Africa’s Wild Coast. The bad news: this one looks like it’s going ahead.

Last week, South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, gave the go-ahead for the new N2 Wild Coast toll road project which will involve the upgrading of existing smaller roads and building of some 90 kilometers of new road through the Pondoland area. Government believes that the road will help create job opportunities, increase tourism and accelerate investment and development in this rural and largely impoverished region. Significantly, it will also provide for easier access to potential mining prospects along the spectacularly beautiful and relatively untouched coastline.

The fight over this road, which in 2007 was estimated to cost R6.4 billion (about $950 million), has been going on for more than a decade. Support has come largely from the national government level and the South African National Roads Agency. Very vocal opposition has been provided by local communities on the Wild Coast, environmentalists, concerned citizens and even the provincial government of KwaZulu Natal.

The project was shelved in 2004 after it was discovered that the supposedly independent environmental consultants tasked with conducting an environmental impact assessment (EIA) had financial links with the companies hoping to build the new road. Molewa’s recent announcement comes after another EIA gave the green light for the project.

The new EIA acknowledges that there will be a “loss of sensitive habitats” and “faunal impacts with loss of faunal diversity and loss of species of special concern.” Opponents charge that the road will endanger sensitive forests and waterways and threaten the traditional way of life of local communities.

Of particular concern is the new section of road which is slated to cut through and destroy some 16% of a fragile region known as the Pondoland Centre of Endemism which is of special value because of its great biodiversity and the presence of many plant species that are found nowhere else on the planet. It also represents the cultural homeland of the AmaPondo people. This new section of road would include construction of no fewer than nine new high-level bridges across river gorges.

Adversaries of the new road argue that a truly sustainable development path for the region would help to uplift the local population while protecting the unique environment at the same time. They have vowed to fight government’s intention to go ahead with construction in the country’s courts.

Visitors to the Wild Coast have long appreciated it as one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa and one that has remained largely undisturbed by human development and environmental degradation. It would be unforgivable if it was devastated by something as mundane as a road. In the words of one local commentator, Fred Orban, “the surest and quickest way to destroy a world renowned wilderness area is to cut a highway through its heart.”

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——
Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

 

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29 comments

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6:07PM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

Sheeple, Your comments are a joke, build highways around sensitive areas, affordable aircraft for rural people.

Have any of you ever been to Africa, the current condition of the continent, in general, is poor and growing worse. Yes, they need a road, can they afford such.

Western man created many of the problems that Africans live with, and yet their only answer is, "We at the World Band and IMF would be "We would happy to loan you the needed monies." Now that is a joke.

11:22AM PDT on Aug 8, 2011

Christine, I was wondering the same thing! Seems like time after time this is the case. What the . . .? Hopefully this one, and others, will be stopped by those of us who care about the natural world and animal habitat!

7:04PM PDT on Aug 7, 2011

Why can't they put the roads where they won't damage the environment- it seems like they always want to put the roads in the areas that will cause the most damage!

11:43AM PDT on Aug 7, 2011

I agree - where's the petition??

12:23PM PDT on Aug 6, 2011

wow...so unfortunate

9:11AM PDT on Aug 6, 2011

Disappointing news.

7:54AM PDT on Aug 6, 2011

The South African government is highly irresponsible and cares little for the country's environment. Somebody must create a petition to stop the highway from being made.

9:50PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

Sad, this is truly a dilemma. I despise the constant growth of roads, yet they are necessary for areas like this. Poor people need a way to travel to the market, and they need to have access to cities for jobs. Yet, South Africa loses large numbers of its fauna every year. What to do? Wouldn't it be great if everyone in far-flung places had their own little air craft that lifted them to where they needed to be without disrupting the environment on the ground below? And if that little aircraft was spacious enough to carry goods?

Get to work inventors! Affordable aircraft for all the rural people!

7:05PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

O Cry for South Africa!

3:12PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

Better economic development would come over the long run by shelving this massive project and preserving the resources, as well as encouraging prudence in stabilizing population levels, which would help both humans and nature.

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