Community and environmental activist Ntsindiso Nongcavu reflects on the what the ruling means for those who lives are spiritually and economically connected to the oceans.
As South Africa celebrates heritage month in September the coastal community of Sicambeni on the East Coast of South Africa, together with social justice partners celebrated a victory for indigenous people. On 1st September 2022 the Makhanda High Court ruled that Shell’s exploration right to conduct seismic surveys on the Wild Coast of South Africa was granted unlawfully and therefore set it aside. Community and environmental activist Ntsindiso Nongcavu reflects on the what the ruling means for those who lives are spiritually and economically connected to the oceans.
If we are not fighting, our next generation will not find anything in the ocean. Our environment will be demolished by the oil and gas companies and the rogue politicians. Ntsindiso Nongcavu, community environmental activist, Port St Johns, Eastern Cape, South Africa.
1) Tell us about yourself and the community you come from
My name is Ntsindiso Nongcavu. I was born at Qambeni location in Port St Johns. I am a fisherman, an activist in my community. I do everything around the protection of the environment and human rights.
2) Why was it important to you to be part of the court case against seismic testing?
It is very important to me. It helped me to learn how to fight for fishing rights and how to fight to protect our resources in the community. If we are not fighting, our next generation will not find anything in the ocean. This is what we must stand up and protect our oceans and our marine resources, as well as human dignity. If we do not stand up, our dignity as South Africans and coastal communities, can be taken away from us. This is why I am part of fighting. Our environment will be demolished by the oil and gas companies and the rogue politicians. To me, it is very important to stand up and to give power to young ones and to tell them that we must stand up to fight for what we deserve.
3) Tell us about the connections your community has to the ocean
As the Sicambeni Community, we have traditional healers and we have churches that use the ocean as the source of culture.We believe that our ancestors are in the ocean. The ocean can assist us. When we have a problem at home, we take cultural drinks and we do a ritual at the ocean - and our problems are solved. Some churches go to the ocean to baptize their members. We believe the oceans can cleanse us as humans, and as indigenous people. That is why we have a connection to the ocean.
If you are stressed, you can go alone to the ocean. Then you hear the sounds, as if someone is calling you, as if someone is answering you.Our ocean is the mother of us. Sometimes we need food. If we go to the sea, we can sell some marine species and sometimes we can cook some species for the children. Then you can make supper and you can put food on the table.
4) Why is it important to you that courts and the government recognise your heritage?
As the coastal communities, we believe that the courts and government must recognise our heritage. If we make the wild coast a heritage site in respect of our culture, then our culture can be recognised by the government.
Our culture and our customs as indigenous people must be respected. If the government respects the customary law of the tribes, we believe this gives us recognition as human beings living next to the coast. We need to be taken seriously. The government does not recognise our customs, because we believe we have a connection to the ocean, to the forests and to the mountains, and these must be respected.
5) In what ways do you want your community to be engaged with when it comes to any type of future development?
Our community is very poor in terms of development. For instance, we have marine species we can catch daily, but we don’t have a market. We would like assistance to find the market, and to develop our skills to prepare the fish, package it and how to preserve the species. We need to preserve our oceans. We need to teach our younger generations how to live with and protect the environment. We need trainings to learn now to protect the species. We need to know what time of year certain species come, and how to protect the fingerlings (offspring).
I think it is very important to us to learn the new techniques of how to do research of the species, and how to protect our species, how to manage the development that comes to our area. How to participate in the assessments, like EIAs and management plans.
In our community, we are highly appreciative of being given the opportunity to participate in decision making. It helps us to understand our role as a community in any kind of development. This will assist my community.