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Hands off the wild coast

Activists hold a 'Hands Off the Wild Coast' banner and anti-Shell placards during a demonstration outside its London headquarters on December 4, 2021. (Photo: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Shell Ruling in South Africa a 'Victory Against Capitalist Extraction and Destruction of Our Future'

"Winning this means we are all moving towards an understanding that we need to find sustainable livelihoods; we need to move away from fossil fuels," said one local campaigner.

Jessica Corbett

Climate campaigners across South Africa and beyond celebrated a Thursday court ruling against Shell seismic blasting in search of fossil fuels along the country's Wild Coast, which opponents warned threatened both the local marine life and fishing industry.

"The fight of coastal communities versus Shell is a struggle for environmental justice, for the protection of rural livelihoods, for sustainable development, and for the life of the planet."

Like its interim decision last December, the new ruling by the Makhanda-based court is a win "for the people and planet," and "sets an important precedent during this climate emergency," said Pooven Moodley, director of the group Natural Justice.

The judgment set aside the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy's 2014 decision giving Shell the right to explore local waters, concluding that it was not lawfully granted.

"The court was clear that communities need to be properly consulted and that environmental impact assessments are critical. The cultural and spiritual connection to the land and ocean featured strongly in the judgment," Moodley noted, adding that the decision "provides hope and momentum" for those standing up against other planet-wrecking projects.

Greenpeace Africa interim program director Melita Steele similarly called the ruling "proof that the world is moving into an era of social and environmental justice, where the voices of people are put before the profits of toxic fossil fuel companies."

"There is still much work to be done to undo the destructive colonial legacy of extractivism in Africa, but this decision gives South Africans renewed hope that people's lives and precious ecosystems are valuable and worthy of protection from climate criminals," she added. "The future is renewable!"

Natural Justice and Greenpeace Africa applied to join the court case, which was brought by Sustaining the Wild Coast NPC, All Rise Attorneys for Climate and the Environment NPC, and local communities and small-scale fishers.

As Agence France-Presse detailed:

Shell planned to map more than 6,000 square kilometres (2,300 square miles) by bouncing sonic waves off the sea floor and using the reflection to build up a 3D image.

The area lies off South Africa's so-called Wild Coast. The 300-kilometer (185-mile) stretch boasts rich waters housing exquisite marine life and natural reserves.

Campaigners argued that the research would have sent… "extremely" loud shockwaves every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day for five months, potentially harming migration, feeding, and other routines for marine mammals and other species.

A Shell spokesperson did not address whether the company will appeal the decision, only saying that "we respect the court's decision and are reviewing the judgment to determine our next steps regarding the Wild Coast block. We remain committed to South Africa and our role in the just energy transition."

Meanwhile, critics of the fossil fuel giant celebrated at the courthouse.

"Winning this means we are all moving towards an understanding that we need to find sustainable livelihoods; we need to move away from fossil fuels," said Sinegugu Zukulu of Sustaining the Wild Coast.

"It is not about us," Zukulu emphasized. "We are in this fight for the good of the planet and the good of future generations. The fight of coastal communities versus Shell is a struggle for environmental justice, for the protection of rural livelihoods, for sustainable development, and for the life of the planet. Shell and the government are fighting for profit in the face of climate change that is putting the future of humanity at risk."

Nonhle Mbuthuma of the Amadiba Crisis Committee similarly declared that "this victory is not just a victory for Wild Coast communities and making our voices heard. This is a victory against capitalist extraction and destruction of our future."

"This victory is not just about protecting the ocean upon which rural coastal communities depend. This is about protecting the planet and the whole of humanity," Mbuthuma added.

As Wild Coast resident Siyabonga Ndovela explained, "we live off the land and the ocean," and "the ocean is our best defender against climate change, shielding us from its worst impacts. By helping the ocean we help ourselves. Ocean action is climate action."

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