By Hazel Shirinda
As part of Limpopo province community, how do I see the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone and its effects on my community and others in Limpopo province?
The MMSEZ is located some +100km from my town (Malamulele). The activities of the project will affect me and my community both directly and indirectly. While we get water from a dam called Nandoni, our water sources will most likely not be affected by the activities of the project in the short term. It remains to be seen how the MMSEZ could leech aquifers in the region. Many of the people from the villages surrounding mine (well including, my village) work in some of the farms that will potentially be affected by the project and the water crisis. So, this implies potential job losses in the long run when the water challenge really starts to kick in, which will most likely be in a couple of years after the project’s initial operations. It is very likely that the beginning stages of the MMSEZs operations will rely on underground aquifers, while other options are tried to resolve the chronic water shortages issues the MMSEZ operations will raise
What bothers me the most about the MMSEZ? Environmental concerns.
My main concern, as an Environmental Scientist, is the environmental concern that comes with the project. The Limpopo valley is a very rich place with a lot of native fauna and flora that are highly valued by the locals. Now for the commencement of the project, around 109 000 baobab trees will be uprooted and moved to a new designated location. This to me is very concerning, coupled with the fact that many animals will be relocated also, thereby disrupting ecosystems services and functioning.
Limpopo struggles economically. The MMSEZ has been marketed as an opportunity for this province to develop economically–my response to whether the creation of an industrial zone is good or bad for the people living in Musina/Makhado.
Honestly speaking, this project as the potential to be very good for the poverty-stricken villages of Limpopo, where most of the youth are either uneducated and or unemployed. Many of the locals, especially in the areas surrounding Makhado and the other districts of the province depend on social grants and have no form of employment. Most for the young people often go to work in the farms around to get by, or go to work in the mines in Johannesburg, while the few with education do not have the proper training and are unemployed. This project could therefore be good for both our struggling youth and dwindling economy.
However, there is a lot at stake and for so long, the locals have been surviving and living in this pristine environment. Now a project of this scale will surely produce toxic chemicals, unless for the first time in South Africa, government and investors keep their promises about super critical clean coal and environmental mitigation. Even so, there will most likely be health impacts and there are no medical facilities well equipped to treat those who may be affected. Most of the people cannot even afford basic medical care and rely on the government for almost everything. Many small villages do not have a clinic and people are forced to travel to neighbouring towns or other villages to queue for hours just to see a doctor, who in most cases only comes once or twice in a week to cater for hundreds of people in a small rundown clinic.
Cultural Heritage and Environmental Aspects: Sacred sites and Flora and Fauna.
Most of the people residing in and around the zone are the VhaVenda people, and these are people who value their culture and tradition more than anything. The baobab tree is not found in many places, even here in South Africa, and so it is of more value than one can imagine. Some of these are protected and one needs permission to remove them. Baobabs do not grow anywhere, only in special environments that meet their climatic and soil requirements amongst others. So, uprooting such many trees at once will need a lot of research, to find a suitable area to relocate them to and someone to monitor them over a certain period of time to ensure that they do well and thrive in their new location. If we were talking about five or ten trees, this would be an easy task, but we are talking about +100 000 trees, most of which are big mature, that must be uprooted. There is also the question of sacred burial sites in the MMSEZ. The sacredness of these sites to local communities cannot be under-estimated.
My experiences as an activist throughout the MMSEZ Environmental Impact Assessment Process? Can our voices make an impact of government and investors thinking?
My experience of engaging with, learning from and activating communities to understand what is at stake in the EIA process for the MMSEZ has been hugely rewarding. Getting to talk to different people, getting to know their different opinions and the reasons behind them was fascinating to say the least. Some people do support the project because it will provide employment for their impoverished communities. Some do not support the project because of the many challenges that it will come with, especially the one of water. Others are undecided between the two and as long as they get to continue living as they were before, they really do not mind the project. Some just have demands that need to be met before the project can commence, which makes a lot of sense because there is just a lot that needs to be done before the project can start. The roads leading to the site are too small and are always packed with traffic, mostly due to the many trucks travelling between Zimbabwe and South Africa. So that coupled with the trucks going to and from the site will be beyond chaotic. So, all in all, my experience so far has been incredibly enriching as an environmental scientist and as an activist. I especially enjoyed interacting with the locals who raised their concerns and getting to know that almost all of them did not know about the public participation meetings which were held before. This is very revealing and it has been so rewarding to be part of the ACCEDE and FES team, along with other organisations who have been working on raising public and community awareness, like Earthlife, CER and SOLVE
Hazel Shirinda is an associate of ACCEDE