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War on Two Fronts

War on Two Fronts

by Andy Davis / 29.04.2010

Did you know that both of South Africa’s world class pointbreaks, J-Bay and E-Bay, are under threat from the Department of Minerals and Energy? If you’re a surfer, you’d at least be aware that South Africa is indeed blessed with two of the world’s most perfect pointbreaks, on either side of the country. It’s like some kind of divine symmetry for surfers. On the East Coast, 80 clicks South of Port Elizabeth, God left his right thumbprint on the coastline at a place called Supertubes, Jeffreys Bay. Waves can literally wrap in and unfold serving up kilometer long rides. It’s widely regarded as the world’s best right hand point break. It’s really an unrecognised World Heritage site that brings in millions of Rands worth of tourists each year and supports the economy of an entire town and provides the impetus for much of South Africa’s surf industry.

On the West coast, about 3 hours drive out of Cape Town is Elands Bay, possibly the world’s most perfect left hand pointbreak, aka God’s left thumb print, and it’s becoming increasingly popular and important in terms of all those tourist dollars that get deposited there by local and international surf tourists. Being in the desert and a bit of secret until late, Elands Bay’s development has been a little bit slow, but there are an increasing number of local businesses, backpackers, hotels, shops mushrooming in the town. And property prices have exploded in the little West Coast dorpie, all because the underwater geography funnels the Atlantic swells into perfectly shaped peelers, running left to right. So magnetic are the waves at Elands and Jeffries, that thousands of people from around the world spend their hard earned bucks to travel thousands of miles to ride these waves, for absolutely no good reason whatsoever beyond the fact that it’s really fun.

Distant Memories of Elands

But at the same time the Department of Minerals and Energy seems hell bent on destroying both of these routinely bankable, low impact, sustainable tourist attractions, and natural heritage sites, in the narrow pursuit of profit, disguised as development and job creation.

On the East Coast, the whole stretch from Jeffries Bay to St Francis is under threat as the preferred site for Eskom’s new nuclear power station, at Thuyspunt, which sits just 10 kilometers West of Seals. Not that we have a problem with Nuclear energy. It sure as hell beats Coal-fired power stations, even if we don’t really know what to do with all that dangerous nuclear waste it produces. But South Africa has nearly 3000 kilometers of coastline, surely Eskom and the Department of Minerals and Energy could find a more suitable, less populated spot that doesn’t threaten some of the world’s most prized surf real estate?

Now let’s shift our attention across the country to Elands Bay, that just happens to be under threat from several dodgy housing developments, but more seriously from a new application to prospect for minerals in the Verlorenvlei, the very river that runs into the sea right where the hallowed wave of Elands Bay ends. They’re planning on mining for tungsten, the stuff in your old lightbulbs and toasters that heats up when electricity is passed through it. Mining for tungsten is a pretty brutal affair, and it causes large scale pollution of the waters surrounding the mining operation. In fact, Bongani Minerals, who have applied for the prospecting rights, have already tried to get mining rights on a farm in the Moutonshoek Valley. However, the application was withdrawn after an assessment indicated that the toxicity of the processed tungsten would have a negative impact on the vlei, the point and in turn the tourism industry.

However the new application to the Department of Minerals and Energy opens the way for mining rights to be granted within 5 years. But this threat is bigger than just the potential ruin of a world class lefthand pointbreak. According to the Verlorensvlei Coalition:
“The rains which fall on the Piketberg feed the Krom Antonies River which has sustained farming in the fertile Moutonshoek Valley for 300 years. The Piket-bo-berg and the valley produce export fruit, nuts, olives, potatoes, proteas and world class horses and provide work and a livelihood for hundreds of local people. The Krom Antonies River feeds the Verloren River which runs past Redelinghuys on its way to the sea. This water constitutes 60% by volume of that received by the Verlorenvlei which forms an estuary at Elands Bay and functions as a nursery for the local fishing and crayfishing industries.
“The quality and flow of water reaching the Verlorenvlei and thus the sea is at high risk of contamination by tungsten which becomes unstable during the mining process and has a strong affiliation for water. The fledgling tourist industry in the district, based on burgeoning guest houses, nature reserves and the famous left hand break at Elands Bay, may cease to exist.”

If building a new nuclear power station near a built up area and world surfing heritage site is stupid, then mining the Verlorenvlei for tungsten is suicide. Scratch the surface and both these projects seem to be propelled by destructive, short-term, narrow-minded profit-seeking, instead of truly sustainable human development.

In many ways, a good surfbreak is the most dependable and sustainable pay day. As long as the authorities protect the location and control the development around it, the wave will literally do the rest. Forever. The tourists, local and international will arrive, surf the wave, stay in the accommodation, drink in the bars, eat in the restaurants and spend spend spend. And even though trickle down economics is hardly the best system for addressing our dire social circumstances, surfbreaks offer a reasonable impetus for development in communities that would otherwise remain neglected.

You can object against the Nuclear Power Station at Thuyspunt and learn more about it at thebombsurf.com

And you can object against Bongani Minerals’ application to prospect in the Verlorenvlei here, and learn more about it at Wavescape.co.za

And while you’re at it join this Facebook Group.

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  1. Kelly Slater says:

    Right on!

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  2. nuclear is for a long, long time says:

    “Not that we have a problem with Nuclear energy. It sure as hell beats Coal-fired power stations, even if we don’t really know what to do with all that dangerous nuclear waste it produces.”

    Although I agree with most of the article, the assertion regarding the merits of nuclear power cannot be left uncontested. It is really concerning to read something like this on Mahala.

    Nuclear is certainly not better than coal-fired power stations, for plenty of reasons that you could find for yourself with a small amount of research. Most of the South African public’s perception of nuclear power is shaped by information put out by the nuclear industry, and is subsequently skewed. I am not saying that coal fired power is good, just that nuclear is no better. And downplaying the issue of nuclear waste is downright irresponsible.

    I was recently at the presentation of the draft EIA in Cape Town where the three sites (Bantamsklip, Thyspunt, and Duinefontein) were examined, and a lot of very concerning issues came out of the woodwork. The most obvious is that the whole EIA exercise is little more than window dressing meant to satisfy the public that due process has been followed and the public’s interest has been considered, whereas the reality is anything but this.

    Rather than debate where we should put a nuclear power station, as if it is fait a compli, the issue should be do we need or want a nuclear power station. There are alternatives, though they have not been considered.

    This is about much, much more than a couple of surf breaks. Any nuclear power station will be at the coast, and it is every surfer’s duty to educate themselves about what this means, get involved, and take appropriate action. A good place to start is the Koeberg Alert Alliance on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=405140235598

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  3. AV says:

    @nuclear…aren’t ALL South African EIAs just window dressing?

    Anyway, IMHO nuclear vs. coal-fired is not the issue. The choice of location is. Our government also seems to be hell-bent in messing up most of SA by allowing mining in pristine areas. Let’s face it, conservation is at the bottom of the list.

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  4. Easy as 123 says:

    1. Download the objection letter here:
    2. Fill in your name, place, and sign it
    3. Fax it to 021 427 1046

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  5. einstein says:

    two thoughts on the subject:
    after the bombings in bali, the balinese government appealed to the surf industry to help resurrect the tourist economy. result; within five years balinese tourism was back on track. based on . . . (drum roll) . . . selling dream waves to surfers!
    the rich are getting richer, the beaurocrats are getting richer, the cops are getting bribes, and the three young uluwatu locals guys sitting on the cliffs above the world-famous left hander are coining it (they’d just bought a R60 000.00 lens when i was there!) everybody wins if you utilise the natural resources given to you in a caring and sustainable way!

    after the chernobyl meltdown, the kids in the town were still going to school less than a kilometre away, for a month!

    the authorities just didn’t tell anyone!

    most of those kids are dead today.

    now think about alec erwin telling us that the koeberg nuclear reactor was sabotaged a few years ago, then denying that he ever suggested such a thing. most of you will remember the rolling blackouts etc etc that followed. what actually happened, could it have been worse, would they have told us if it was? because you can’t see radiation? you really have no idea that the atmosphere around you is full of radiation and is killing you.

    can we trust eskom to build and maintain deadly devices in our midst?

    put your X on the petition, maybe it’ll keep those st francis chokka fishermen safe for a few more years.

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  6. regarding nuclear waste says:

    On the subject of nuclear waste, here are a some facts that might surprise a few people::

    1. There is one (yes, 1) facility in the entire world that is equipped for handling high grade nuclear waste, and it is a military facility in the US. No one on earth knows what to do with nuclear waste.
    2. In SA, our low grade waste goes to Vaalputs for “disposal” (read throwing it into a hole in the ground). Fairly recently one such truck carrying low grade waste went missing, and it is still unaccounted for.
    3. High grade waste – and this is standard, global practice for the nuclear industry – stays in the nuclear power station. Yes, all the high grade waste that Koeberg has ever produced is still right there just north of Melkbos. High grade waste requires “active cooling” to keep it manageable – which requires power. What might happen during a prolonged black out…
    4. As the nuclear industry does not know what to do with high grade waste, they have conveniently stated that in the event of a nuclear power station being de-commissioned, the high grade waste can be entombed (read set in concrete) as a final, permanent storage solution. This, again, is standard, prescribed practice.
    5. At the recent draft EIA presentation in Cape Town, ALL unanswerable questions were passed off to other bodies/committees/organisations. The issue of waste is one prime such example. Never mind that the rest of the world doesn’t know how to deal with it, our boffins have conveniently washed their hands of the whole waste issue by making it the problem of a body that doesn’t even exist as of yet. You might ask yourself what good is an EIA that doesn’t consider health impacts and doesn’t know how to deal with waste. Not much good at all really.
    6. Despite the fact that Koeberg is located right next to a densely populated urban area, there has not been a single research survey into the health effects of the radioactive material that are released as the natural end products of its normal functioning process. This only makes sense if there is something to hide.

    If you think that nuclear power is about bringing cheap, clean power to the masses, you are deluding yourself.The nuclear industry is not what they’d like you believe it to be.

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  7. The Oracle says:

    Surely a nuclear power station would heat up the water so you wouldn’t need
    to wear a wetsuit. This would attract even more tourists and their dollars?

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  8. John says:

    Think of the plus side. The water flowing out of the nuclear power station is nice and warm, and makes for great swimming if the sea is cold. They do this in northern Sweden.

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  9. Big Bay says:

    John and the Oracle, you guys are idiots, have you ever surfed at Van riebeekstrand? its right next to koeberg and just as cold as the rest of the atlantic, there is a wave off the Breakwater wall but you will be forcefully removed if you try surf there so the warm water no wetsuit theory is as stupid as our govermunt who are doing their utmost to ruin the enviroment.

    we have nearly all year round sunshine and strong wnds in the cape, perfect tools for eco friendly power supplies but no one can create a significant profit so why would they implement it?

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  10. simon says:

    nice article andy – well done man for getting this stuff out there

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