Dam Bad News

The controversial De Hoop Dam is seducing the people of the region with the promise of jobs and water. If they succumb, the legacy they will leave their great-grandchildren is likely to be a denuded landscape, ravaged by toxic waste.

The controversial De Hoop Dam – to be built on the border of the Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces — is seducing the people of the region with the promise of jobs and water. But if they succumb to this seduction, their legacy to their great — grandchildren, seven generations from now is likely to be a denuded landscape, ravaged by toxic waste from platinum mining, industry and chemically — intensive agriculture.

The Olifants River downstream of the dam will most likely comprise sections of alternating dry river beds and flooding, all the way through the Kruger Park and Mozambique .
The revised conditions for the go ahead of the R5 — billion Olifants River Water Resource Development project, including the 21 — storey De Hoop Dam, have been welcomed by Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Lindiwe Hendricks. The dam will be built across the Steelpoort River, a major tributary feeding the Olifants River, which in turn flows through the Kruger National Park (KNP) and Mozambique before emptying into the Indian Ocean.

Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk issued the revised Record of Decision (RoP) last month (Oct 06), containing the new conditions for development of the controversial project. He concluded that the need for the dam had “clearly been demonstrated, and there is no viable alternative to a supply — side solution for the envisaged demands on the system”.

What does this politicomumbojumbo mean?
It means the project must go ahead, the project will go ahead and that’s that! But the project is an environmentally destructive one, no matter how many “measures” you implement to “limit” the impact. Tha facts are that animals will die, endemic species of plants will drown, people will be moved and rivers will be poisoned. THAT’s it. That’s the bottom line.

Our great grandchildren will inherit a land polluted by progress, ravaged by drought and frazzled by global warming, because we insisted in 2006 that we “NEED DAMS” in order to “MINE MINERALS” in order to “MAKE MONEY” in order to “GROW THE ECONOMY”. Because we did not stand up and say no to the government and their corporate masters in mining, industry and economics. Those grandchildren will say, “Gogo what were you thinking?”.

Oh and by the way, you and I as South African taxpayers are helping foot the bill for this damn dam. Government — in other words you — will provide about R1,3 — billion of the R4,9 — billion required for the project. How do you feel about subsidising mining houses and industry?

“We need to take a close look at this and then really come to terms with ourselves. To move ahead into the next 500 years we must leave some things behind or they will contaminate or even eliminate the future. We cannot go forward if we keep destroying the earth.

But we must also ask, what is good and healthy and helpful? Those good things can be part of our foundation, part of our pathway into the next 500 years.”
Navajo Elder Leon Secatero

There are so many assumptions inherent in any development. Is it an undeniable truth that we have to grow the economy in order to live a better life? Do more cars, more DVDs and more mass — produced, nutritionally — deficient foods necessarily equat to a better life? Shouldn’t we focus on building community instead of dams, cultivating caring attitudes instead of a our economy, restoring creation instead of destroying it. We need to live in tune with the habitats which sustain us, instead of bleeding them dry. Because when there is no more habitat to destroy, we will die of hunger anyway.

So assuming the Olifants River Water Resource Development project is a bad idea, how do we stop it? These multibillion rand projects are driven by powerful vested interests: construction and engineering firms, mining houses and agricorporations. These guys feed off economic development and have the clout to push this project ahead, no matter what the ecological cost.

Government departments the world over bow to their investments.
When this project was initially mooted, there were voices of reason within SANParks expressing concern at the impact on the KNP. In fact, the water of the Olifants is already so polluted, that the KNP often has to resort to boreholes for potable water use at the Olifants and Satara rest camps.

But even SANParks, which initially had reservations about the project, has become a lapdog. It seems the dissenting voices have been muffled and the new guard at SANParks has joined the choir of accolytes. “We have always said our role is not to stop development but to make development sustainable,” said Wanda Mkutshulwa, SANParks communications head. “We understand communities need water, that we need business in the area, but for sustainability’s sake we need to protect the ecological integrity of the river system. These needs can and must live in harmonious coexistence.”

I have news for you Wanda, sustainable development is an oxymoron! We cannot have both, we have to choose one or the other. The minute you budge on this issue, you have lost the fight for the planet. Once a river is slightly polluted, it is easier to get away with ever — increasing destruction. Do you want a healthy living river or do you want platinum mines and polluted water. BOTTOM LINE!

But people are afraid to speak out, to think for themselves. To be a dissenting voice against powerful forces is often to stand alone in the wilderness.

Anti — dam activists around the world such as Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy in India, have first hand experience of this. They have been demonised, arrested and jailed by the Indian government for speaking out against dam projects.
Millions of poor, often indigenous people have been displaced by dams the world over.

Ask the people around Katse in Lesotho about this. People who were once subsistence farmers, living off the land, without destroying it, are today living in shanty towns, after being displaced by the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

In China, Three Gorges Dam activist Fu Xiancai suffered a broken neck and paralysis in June this year (06), after being attacked by “thugs” on the way home from a meeting with police officials. Fu has lobbied provincial governments and local officials since the 1990s to secure compensation for some of the million people resettled to make way for the 185 — metre high dam.

But here in South Africa we seem content to just lie quietly and allow ourselves and our land to be raped.

The promise of jobs and water to the local people — as mentioned at the beginning of this article — can be equated to stealing candy from a baby. People are poor. People are hungry. They will jump at the opportunity of perceived progress. But sustainable development cannot live up to its promise in the long term. Decades from now, the dam will be silted up and the land of their ancestors will be polluted and it will be so for generations to come.

Even DEAT admits there will be destruction, “The substantial impacts cannot therefore be avoided, but measures must be put in place to mitigate the potential impacts to acceptable levels.”
But what are “acceptable levels” of environmental destruction? Is it okay to wipe out one species in order to build a dam? Is it okay to destroy an entire ecosystem in order to build a dam, in order to mine platinum, in order to grow our economy?

Is it okay to poison our rivers, in order to mine platinum, in order to grow our economy? Is it okay to poison our water, and in turn our bodies and those of our children, in order to grow the economy?

Those in power are destroying the planet and are therefore destroying us, our bodies and our future. At what point are we as a species going to stand back and say no to toxic progress, no to destructive development?

We find ourselves in the midst of the most rapid mass extinction in Earth’s history; we have the power to all — but end life on Earth. What are we going to do about it? What are you going to do about it?

Here are just a few of the many reasons why this project should not go ahead:

Dams harm natural ecosystems
Increased pollution from mining, industry and agriculture will accompany the river system through local villages, into the KNP and eventually into Mozambique.

Development is not necessarily a good thing
The Olifants River stopped flowing for 78 days in 2005, because of drought and growing demands on its water, now they want to dam it upstream!

At least 20 species of plant found nowhere else on Earth will be flooded by the 1 700ha dam, along with at least 20 animal and reptile species already threatened with extinction.

High salinity, pollution by heavy metals and high silt loads are the main concerns for conservation and have already contributed to the disappearance of at least five fish species from the Olifants River.

The water of the Olifants is already so polluted by mining and industry, that the KNP often has to resort to boreholes for potable water use at Olifants and Satara rest camps.

When water levels in the Olifants dropped in August 2005, hippos were forced, against their nature, to crowd into small pools, stirring up the mud, defecating in and deoxygenating the water and killing off fish. And this before the dam has even been built! Finally, downstream is somebody’s home – it may be people, non — human animals, fish or plants, but somebody does live there and they call it home. Do government and industry have the right to destroy those homes in order to boost profits?

The Sekhukhuneland Centre of Endemism will be flooded as a result of the construction of De Hoop Dam. In a biological context, an organism restricted to a localised area is referred to as an endemic. If this localised area has a high occurrence of endemics it is a “centre of endemism”.

So Marthinus proposes “mitigating the loss of this land by forcing the applicant to establish and maintain a conservation area of equal size and similar nature to the area of the Sekhukhune Land Centre of Endemism”. This conservation area must be established at the time that the dam becomes operational. The process for identification and establishment of this conservation area must be discussed with and agreed to by the DEAT.

This is Disneyland thinking! This implies that if you destroy a naturally occuring centre of endemism, you can simply recreate a Disney version of it “somewhere else” and then go ahead and wipe out the original. This is not a way of life. This is a way of death. As author, teacher and activist Derrick Jensen sums it up, “Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.”

I wonder what Pedi Chief Sekhukhune and other pre-colonial chiefs of the region would say about the De Hoop Dam project? I don’t know this for sure, but I have a sneaky suspicion he would be with the environmentalists on this one. After all, it was he who in the 1870s single-handedly thwarted the plans of the Transvaal Republic, led by President Burgers, to build a railway linking the Transvaal to the sea. Chief Sekhukhune saw the value in keeping colonisers out of his peoples’ lands, which lay in the path of the proposed railway.

But today, the people of the region and the people of South Africa in general, seem unable to resist colonisation. The colonising force of today is industry, economics and development. Chief Sekhukhune’s prophecy of 1879 has come to pass, that after him no other chief would be able to stand up to Pretoria, since they would all be its tools.