John Clarke: Nazir’s Nadir – The N2 Wild Coast shortcut.

Construction of the Wild Coast toll road is expected to start in September this year but there is still no indication of how the project will be funded. The Transport department has done social impact studies as to why it’s a necessary project. The next court date is 25 July but as John says, he doubts Alli will be there. Funds aren’t the only issue, there is major opposition from community members as to who the real beneficiaries of the project are. The rumblings of tenderpreneurship spring to the surface, which involve the rights to the mineral rich dunes of the Pondoland Wild Coast. While such a divide also takes away the easy access to and from the coast line for the people on the wrong side of the track. It’s a massively complicated issue which social worker John GI Clarke has been opposing for 15 years. The person behind the realignment of the N2 via Pondoland is SANRAL CEO Nazir Alli. Both have been at loggerheads ever since. And while they don’t see eye-to-eye, as is depicted in the piece below, the opposition Amadiba Crisis Committee took to the streets of Cape Town yesterday, in a bid to put the project on further ice. As there has been enough tragedy already. John adds further fuel to this fire in the piece below, winding back the clock to 1887, to give more perspective. Development always comes at a cost, the possible question here is – at ‘how big’ a cost? – Stuart Lowman

By John GI Clarke*

“…his failure in Pondoland weighed heavily on his spirits. The road, moreover, was never to justify the money and effort expended upon it, due as much to the inadequacy of the river port, and the intractable terrain as to local opposition.”

No, this not a future prediction about the fate that awaits Nazir Alli and his ambition to see the N2 Wild Coast short cut through Pondoland finished. But it may well be if he continues to refuse to face his own truth.

John Clarke at Mtentu Hutted Camp, Wild Coast October 2006
John Clarke at Mtentu Hutted Camp, Wild Coast October 2006

The quote is from a biography on Donald “Madonela” Strachan, the pioneering ‘autocrat of Umzimkulu’ who was appointed British Resident to a still independent Pondoland in 1887. He harboured the ambition to build a shortcut through Pondoland, to clear the way for imports unloaded at Port St Johns to get to Kokstad more cheaply. He was allocated £6000 by the Cape colonial government, who were fed up with the Natal Colonial government’s imposition of extortionist customs duties at the Cape/Natal border at Umzikulu levied on imports landing in Durban. Building the road meant a lot to Madonela’s further political ambitions. Difficult negotiations with King Mqikela -ka Faku, and the Chiefs of the sovereign country had finally produced an agreement. He thought it was all wrapped up.

Alas plans started to unravel due to a wicked synergy of; (a) rival German colonial interests, (b) subtle sabotage by existing Traders vested in the pre-existing wagon route, and (c) Murphy’s Law. King Mqikela happened to die on him, leaving two possible candidates to inherit the throne, Mhlangaso and Sigcau. The amaMpondo had more important fish to fry than to build a road for the economic convenience of land locked Colonial settlers in East Griqualand who were at odds with other Colonial settlers who playing to their advantage to make more money.

Poor Madonela did not tarry long in Pondoland. When word came that he had been suspected of ‘ukunukwa’ (witchcraft) for having ‘caused’ King Mqikela’s death, he hastened back to Kokstad.  He had no reason to want Mqikela out the way. Mqikela had been cooperative, and had expressly said his declining ill health was his own fault and nobody should be accused of malevolent intent when he died, but it seems that the Traders knew which buttons to push to whip up a rumour to sabotage the road building endeavour.

Fast forward 109 years to 1996. The National Assembly adopts a new non-racial democratic constitution that begins with the stirring words, “We the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past.”

Do we still, twenty years later? Does a President, Cabinet member or Judge upon swearing an oath of office to “uphold the constitution” recognise injustices perpetrated SINCE its adoption? Or only those which occurred under apartheid and colonialism when white men like me held power?

#HandsOffAmadiba protests in Cape Town. Pic credit: Amandla Media
#HandsOffAmadiba protests in Cape Town. Pic credit: Amandla Media

I am told by my legal friends that the statement about the past only refers to the injustices prior to adoption of the constitution and that it was as much an act of contrition for those who had been members of the apartheid parliament, but had since committed themselves to a new non-racial vision, alongside their former enemies in truth and reconciliation. Explicit in the words that follow is an act of faith, hope and love, that might have been penned by St Paul himself, except you don’t have to be Christian to attest to them.

They are really good words, but on the evidence of the current political theatre increasingly more honoured in the breach than the observance.

But what about unrequited injustices that have occurred after the constitution? For the past 15 years my professional social work of challenging injustice is no longer occupied by pre-constitutional injustices.

Sanral CEO Nazir Alli clearly has great difficulty in accepting that. For fifteen years now we have found ourselves on sharply opposite sides over the lawfulness of his vaulting ambition to tame the Wild Coast, by means of a realigment of the N2 via Pondoland.

The last time we spoke he said “Get away from me. You f….g beneficiary of apartheid”.

The tag ‘beneficiary of apartheid’ is perfectly true, and the expletive telling, but the most perplexing bit was the “get away from me”. Why did he want us to be apart? Far apart. Why was ‘apart hate’ still so omnipresent?

If I had been a white policeman who had fifty-five years ago come to kick his family out of their home because a racist government had decided they were the wrong colour I would have deserved his angry imprecation. That wasn’t me. I was only five.

Here is what really happened to provoke his race based analysis of my personhood.

See also: ‘Voetsak Matilda’ – Leave our Wild Coast dunes alone

On 6 October 2015 a group of residents from the Amadiba coastal community had crowded into one of Bazooka Radebe’s taxis and travelled nearly 1000 kms, all the way from Pondoland to the North Gauteng high court to give visible support to their attorney Cormac Cullinan. Mr Alli had brought an interlocutory application alleging that Cullinan had no mandate to represent them in their application for the High Court to set aside the environmental authorisation for Sanral’s long frustrated plans to realign the N2 between Port Shepstone and Umtata along the Wild Coast. The tired group had left their homes and fields so as to impress upon Mr Alli, his lawyers and the judge that this challenge was not about ‘greeny-beanie’ environmentalists wanting to preserve the Wild Coast for their personal recreation, as Mr Alli seems to believe.

Two of the stalwarts of the Amadiba struggle Samson Gampe and Mashona Wetu Dlamini were also among the group. The two elders are humble, wise, principled men whose homesteads will be forever separated, and their community fragmented if the N2 Wild Coast shortcut goes ahead. The road will in effect become a barrier. An 80m wide fenced road reserve running between Port Edward and Umtata.

Limited underpasses will be built to afford livestock and pedestrians passage underneath. Homesteads, graves, cropfields and grazing land along the route will requir significant resettlement and disruption.

Worst of all they see the road as ‘a cow carrying a calf’: the ‘calf’ being an Australian mining company who needs the infrastructure to facilitated the mining of their coastal dunes. It would be bad taste to say they are ‘dead against’ the mining. Four of their fellow opponents now lie buried, the most recent being Bazooka Radebe who was also in court on that day. They believe it was murder. They know they could be next, but are reconciled to that.

Samson Gampe is a veteran of the Pondo Uprising. He is hoping that the Courts will vindicate their land rights, and that he no longer needs the weapons he buried sixty years ago.

Mashona Wetu is an equally wise elder. Over my decade-long participation in their struggle, we have developed a bond that can only be described as a living incarnation of the sentiments expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution. If it were up to me they would be sitting as judges on the Constitutional Court, so impressive is their wisdom and understanding of Mpondo customary law as an inclusive, peace building body of wisdom.

Both men feature in the much acclaimed award winning documentary The Shore Break, which shows their steely determination and courage against all manner of manipulation by the mining agents to try and neutralise them. See

But both have weak bladders.

While assisting the two elderly men to exit the court to obey the call of nature I noticed that Mr Alli had slipped into court behind us and was sitting inviting some acknowledgement at least. As we passed him, I greeted him. “Hello Nazir. Can I introduce two of my clients to you”.

He spurned the approach. Offensively so.

Read also: SANRAL officials “arrogant” and “dangerous” says OUTA’s new whistleblower

I am sure he regrets his reflex reaction now, but it did constitute grounds for a hate speech charge. The law is a blunt instrument in such matters, and besides, an offence to the dignity of Gampe, Mashona Wetu and myself pales in comparison to the murder and mayhem that has been sown in their community life ever since this unwelcome ‘cow and calf’ arrived some 20 years ago.

One of the most heart breaking scenes in The Shore Break features Gampe lamenting “But apartheid is over. But if our bones are dug up we are still oppressed”.

He but cannot get over why the Powers that Be show the same inclination toward the obsession with money and power of the Powers that Were. Roads, bridges and schools are important infrastructure but development is about people not about objects.

People like Samson Gampe and Mashona Wetu.

People like Nomvelwana ‘Lolo’ Mlenganga. From the same Mdatja village where Bazooka lies buried, she is a member of the Amadiba Traditional Council, and was also among the group who made the long journey to Pretoria. Had Mr Alli been more polite, the next person I wanted to introduce to him was Lolo. This film explains why, filmed six months earlier.

People like Lolo’s neighbour Buziziwe Ndovela who, while revellers at the nearby Wild Coast Sun were ushering in the New Year gave birth to her baby under the stars because of the terror and intimidation of pro-mining/pro N2 thugs that drove her and many other terrified residents from their homes with rapid fire shots in the air. Her testimony is now also on film. See this:

People like the widow and offspring of the late Mpothomela Mtanyelwa ‘Bhalasheleni’ Mthwa who died under suspicious circumstances in March last year. If readers have the stomach for yet another video that testifies to the injustices of the past ten years, this 30-minute tribute does that.

This map shows graphically the proximity of the Sanral green-fields route to the Xolobeni mineral sands, and to the homesteads, graves and places that I have mentioned.

Eastern Pondoland bisected by N2

While the community was still in turmoil following Bazooka’s assassination Mr Alli chose to announce that construction of the short cut was about to begin. Given that the High Court application brought by the Amadiba coastal residents remains to be heard and adjudicated Mr Alli has progressed from race based insult to constitutional contempt. If he does commence construction Cormac Cullinan has a clear mandate from the people that Mr Alli refused to greet in court to obtain an urgent interdict. Any contractors whom Sanral has appointed will be at severe financial risk.

Nazir, I have empathy for you and acknowledge that you suffered from apartheid injustices. I understand that a small boy who is kicked with his parents from their family home because they are the wrong colour will be inclined to forever view the world through an angled prism. We all need therapy to help us shed out baggage. It is time for you to get with the 21st Century democratic, inclusive vision articulated in the Preamble to the Constitution, lest you find yourself back in the 19th Century, sitting and sulking with Donald Strachan, wondering what went wrong. It is time to face your own truth, if our history is to flower again, because as Nigerian poet Ben Okri says.

“Stories are the secret reservoir of values. Change the stories a people or nation lives by and tell themselves and you change the people and nations. If they tell themselves stories that are lies, they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truth, they will free their histories for future flowerings.”