Words by Steve Pike and Jacque Smit.
Protect the West Coast recently travelled up the West Coast for a special film tour of their film Ours, Not Mine, to help communities understand how to deal with heavy mineral sand mining that threatens the land and their livelihoods. Watch the film HERE
For a week between 27 May and 3 June, members of PTWC travelled 800km along a mine-scarred coastline with a bakkie load of screening and audio visual gear to screen the film, which recently won a silver award at the International Tourism Film Festival Africa in the category of Environment and Ecology.
The film - screened to hundreds of people in the towns of Strandfontein, Lutzville, Hondeklip Bay, Kleinsee, Port Nolloth, and Alexander Bay - tells the story of indigenous and local people affected by the mining, including elders from the Khoi Griqua people, who depend on the land and ocean for their livelihood. Ours, Not Mine calls for the correct legal process to be followed before mining and prospecting licences are granted by the South African government.
The aim of the tour was to educate and empower communities about these procedures, such as environmental impact studies and fully comprehensive public participation. The film shows how communities - as citizens of South Africa - have a right to question mining companies and can call on the government for proper consultation and participation in decisions and permissions around the mining process.
The first two stops were Strandfontein and Lutzville where the film was screened to packed audiences of enthusiastic folk. PTWC organised transport for the outlying areas of Doringbaai, Papendorp, Vredendal and Ebenhaezer so those communities could join.
Jacque Smit of the PTWC, who organised the film tour, said: “Because these communities can see and feel the direct impact from big mining companies and they know that change needs to happen before it’s too late. There are some incredible women in these areas behind the pushback and we back them 100% and will use whatever channels we have to help.”
The tour then headed north, where years of broken promises and exploitation have laid to waste huge areas along the coast.
“When we crossed into the Northern Cape to Hondeklipbaai, there was a grim change we weren't prepared for. Our turnout in Hondeklipbaai was beyond dismal, and we learned how much distrust there is for outsiders,” Smit said.
“However, we managed to build bridges with the correct and legitimate members of the community, with whom we will build a network for communication and activism. It can be the Wild West out there, with many shady deals and dodgy characters trying to influence the situation.”
Smit said that beyond Hondeklipbaai towards Kleinzee, the land has been turned into a horrific mine dump with no sign of rehabilitation. In many areas, the coast has been destroyed to the point of being beyond repair.
“There was a better turnout in Kleinzee although the community are still very wary of any organisations coming into town. They are sick of officials who arrive to make rosy promises of jobs and money flowing into the community that are never fulfilled,” Smit said.
The screening at Port Nolloth was packed with a friendly audience who backed PTWC’s attempts to hold mining companies and the government accountable to the vast and permanent damage they have done to the area.
The final stop of the tour was a sad reminder of the utter desolation and ruination left by the mining companies around Alexander Bay.
“It’s like the soul has been ripped out of the town, with no hope of any future. There is no recourse to tourism along the coast, whether fishing, camping, surfing or any recreational activity, because there is no access to the beach for many kilometres,” Smit said.
Apart from striking up partnerships and contacts with the right people to carry the fight further, the other consolation for PTWC, if one can call it that, is the ironic glimmer of hope that the catastrophic apocalypse of the far Northern Cape coast will stand as a grim sentinel to warn us all of what happens when mining takes place with no oversight.
All images taken by Jacque Smit.