On Global Anti-Fracking Day (28 July 2012), there were protests and rallies around the world, but one of the quirkiest and most heart-warming was held in the South African Karoo, in the village of Nieu Bethesda. It also proved once and for all that opposition to fracking is not divided along racial lines.
At Nieu Bethesda’s rally were emerging farmers from the district, the Southern Cape Land Committee representing farmworkers and emerging farmers, as well as local commercial farmers, townspeople, Khoi-San representatives and schoolchildren of all races. They were joined by an environmental activist and photographer from Soweto, an environmental economist, climate change campaigners from Cape Town, a groundwater scientist from Bloemfontein, and Bikers against Fracking.
Fracking Affects Us All
Phumi Booysen of the Southern Cape Land Committee told the crowd gathered there that “one of the key challenges for us is to make sure this campaign is not perceived to be a campaign of white people and not black people. Fracking will not only affect white people or black people. It will affect all people.”
Earlier he had pointed out that people in many townships across the Karoo were being fed other information, and being told fracking would bring them benefits. “We have to challenge these people, because as a group we should all be very concerned about the effects of fracking, especially on farmworkers and emerging farmers”.
Threats to Farmworkers
Chriszanne Janse van Rensburg of SCLC came forward and explained to the crowd that the Southern Cape Land Committee supported emerging farmers and farmworkers in this matter.
“We are extremely worried about the fact that farmworkers and dwellers will be affected because farmworkers will lose their jobs and they will lose their homes on the farms and they don’t have the financial means to move anywhere else.”
Previously she had noted that farming and food security would also be affected by global warming. “And we can see that fracking will contribute to climate change.”
Emerging Farmers say No
Danyl Vywers of the Sneeuberg Emerging Farmers Association stood up before the crowd and said: “Fracking can affect our farming and destroy our whole future. And our children, and their children. These are the people we must think about. So we say no to fracking. We cannot allow the biggest company to destroy our future. All our people must raise their voices and fight against this whole business. And say NO to fracking in the Karoo.”
Fight Fracking Together
Evelyne Olifant, who runs Antie Evelyne’s Restaurant in Nieu Bethesda’s township (and also funds a soup kitchen out of her own money) stood up to voice her opposition.
“Now everything will get broken, even below the ground (from fracking). I remember as a child walking around, playing in the rivers, seeing fish and crabs. What is the future for our children?
But I trust with the help of our Heavenly Father, this thing will be stopped. If we put our faith in the Father. I say no fracking. We don’t need it.”
Groundwater expert says No
Professor Gerrit van Tonder of the University of Free State’s Institute for Groundwater Studies also raised his voice against fracking.
“I am against fracking, not for emotional reasons. For the past six months we have been doing research that shows fracking will cause big problems. I say, ban fracking. Let us first do research. There is not enough research.”
Rituals in Acid Water
Mthunzi Ndimande had driven down from Johannesburg with renowned photographer Santu Mofokeng. Mofokeng said he wanted to photograph the Karoo and its people before it was fracked.
At the rally, Ndimande said he had grown up next to the mine dumps in Soweto, and had seen how people were now swimming and conducting their holy rituals in toxic acid water coming from the mines.
Standing arm in arm with organiser Marina Louw from the Climate Justice Campaign, Ndimande said “I am so proud of this community in Nieu Bethesda for standing up to protect their environment before it is too late.”
Water is Holy
Priscilla de Wet of the First Indigenous Women’s Movement carried an anti-fracking banner with Joy Owen, Senior lecturer in Anthropology at Rhodes University. De Wet as member of the Khoi-San community, and Owen, as her spiritual sister, felt very strongly about the issue.
“Water is holy. Water is divine. Water is the link between nature and ourselves. But if you grow up in urban spaces, you lose your connection with natural spaces. We expect the Government to understand this and to represent this knowledge, and to act to protect our water. But they do not. If they do not, then they don’t represent us in this matter,” said Owen.
De Wet added that those who grow up in urban spaces often don’t understand nature, and ruin it with mining.
“But water is the blood of Mother Earth, the life source. If we kill the life source, we kill ourselves.”
The Hidden Costs
Graaff-Reinet based environmental economist, Roy Stauth said they were calling on Government to realise that there was simply not enough information on the potential impacts of fracking on the environment and society.
“What will happen to the roads? What will happen to the waters in the evaporation dams? What will happen to communities? We are asking for a strategic environmental assessment, looking at the whole picture. I’ve seen fracking in my own home state of Colorado, and it is ugly.”
Shell the Goliath
Sneeuberg Nguni cattle farmer Kevin Watermeyer, who has been mentoring local emerging farmers, pointed out that Shell was one of the wealthiest companies in the world.
“In a country with such terrible inequality, they are wanting to unleash this rich Goliath on the poorest people. What are the social consequences? Shell won’t keep the money in South Africa.
“And with such land hunger, how can they allow Shell to have so many millions of hectares?”
We the Children
Last word went to the children, including the pupils of Lettie de Klerk Primary, who sang a poignant song about their future. Watermeyer’s son Peter, 11, said he was going to write to Shell and ask them why they didn’t rather invest in renewable energy.
“If fracking happens, we won’t have a bright future. We have so little water in the Karoo, we can’t afford to contaminate a single drop. We are already worrying about the children we will one day have, and our children’s children.”
- The rally was preceded by a workshop to design an easy way of explaining fracking and its ramifications to those without access to internet and other media. It was co-ordinated by the Climate Justice Campaign with input from Earthlife Africa. Mikey Wentworth of Nieu Bethesda facilitated proceedings in the village, and organised a concert by guitarists Steve Newman and Greg Georgiades.