Photographs by Chris Marais
When the threat of shale gas fracking first loomed over South Africa’s Karoo region in 2011, most of the opposition came from the ranks of local white farmers and land owners.
You could be excused for thinking this was a simple case of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) on the part of a generally well-off community enjoying the natural and agricultural assets of the Karoo. And standing in the way of the national energy plan.
But you would be wrong – on both counts.
Fracking is everyone’s concern, and here in the Karoo a large group of emerging farmers and farm workers aligned with the Southern Cape Land Committee (SCLC) have taken a firm stand against this extractive – and potentially deadly – industry.
The SCLC’s Phumelelo Booysen put it this way:
“We have to change the perception out there, that the struggle against fracking is white peoples’ attitude against job creation. In fact it is for all who love South Africa, who care about future generations regardless of colour.
“We must prove them wrong, those who pursue the race card for their own selfish short term interest. They are trying to divide us.”
Secondly, it is clear to most of civil society that renewable energy sources are the answer in the Karoo, which enjoys plenty of sun and wind. Fracking for gas (or oil or coalbeds, for that matter) threatens the precious underground water upon which hundreds of thousands of lives depend, on farms and in towns.
Since 2011, anti-fracking sentiment has become a startlingly authentic expression of democracy in South Africa. It has grown steadily through all sectors of society.
Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG), Earthlife Africa, groundWork and the Climate Justice Campaign have held various demonstrations around South Africa. But there are many others too, ranging from large conservation organisations like WWF-SA and Birdlife South Africa to a range of religious groupings including the SA Council of Churches to rights groups like Afriforum and even quirky crowds like Bikers Against Fracking.
There is broad cooperation between them. Sometimes there is closer collaboration, as there was at a recent workshop in Graaff-Reinet where the SCLC and an exciting group of Dutch anti-fracking activists, mostly from MilieuDefensie (Friends of the Earth) came together to share information and strategies on 19 August 2014.
Also present were representatives from the local Khoi people, the Inqua.
The tribe’s chief Daantjie Japhta stood up to explain the current Khoi position, especially in view of the fact that the First People are planning a land claim on large swathes of the Eastern Cape, including the Karoo.
“We are saying that the land we are claiming should not be full of holes and the air full of gas. We want food security, not poison. We want to feed our children. We will work and fight to stop fracking, whatever is needed. We need a total onslaught against it.”
The Dutch shared news on how sustained pressure, town by town, had led hundreds of municipalities across the Netherlands to declare themselves “Frack-Free”.
“It started with one, and then the municipality next door realised then they would probably be fracked, so they declared themselves Frack-Free and it spread from there. Now there are hundreds,” explained Ike Teuling, one of the MilieuDefensie campaigners.
Graaff-Reinet lawyer Derek Light, who had been invited to give an update on the legal situation with fracking in the Karoo, said that working with local councillors and municipalities would be particularly valuable in the case of South Africa, since it is local authorities that have the final say on the rezoning of land that would precede shale gas exploration or exploitation.
Anti-fracking task teams from small Karoo towns like Middelburg, Nelspoort, Rietbron, Steytlerville, Jansenville and Willowmore and others gave their feedback on Shell’s tactics and how many local politicians were pro-fracking, in sharp contrast to their constituencies.
All except for one municipality, they said. If it is true the Karoo has its first Frack-Free Municipality, it is not yet official.
But perhaps soon…
- The SCLC, MilieuDefensie and groundWork have made available an easy-to-understand 25 page PDF on fracking in the Karoo, authored by Dr David Fig. Click here to have a look.