LitNet speaks to Michael Wentworth about the upcoming anti-fracking rally in Nieu-Bethesda.
What have been the most recent developments regarding fracking in the Karoo and especially in the Nieu-Bethesda area?
Right now everyone is awaiting government’s decision with regard to the issuing of exploration licences. This decision is supposed to be informed by a report that was initially due to be handed to cabinet during this month (July), but due to parliament’s being in recess we have to wait until next month for the report and the subsequent decision to be announced. However, based on recent statements by Minister Dipua Peters, it seems that a decision has already been taken.
There's been a lot of activism and creating of awareness regarding fracking in the Karoo. Has this generally been effective?
As with any form of awareness-raising, one has to acknowledge what would (or would not) have been without any intervention. Many people still see the entire South African anti-fracking lobby as serving the interests of white middle-class landowners and as such there has been a fair amount of opposition to the messenger without bothering to understand the message. A shift has occurred, though, and more of an effort is being made to disseminate information (to counter Shell’s paid-for propaganda campaign that has been featured in the mainstream media and social networks over recent months) to the broader public and especially under-educated communities that will be affected and who are most susceptible to the lies being spread by Shell about economic and social development. I have been working with a group of refugees from the Niger Delta who have begun an NGO in Cape Town, and the environmental as well as social devastation that has resulted in Ogoniland (where Shell’s primary operations have been based) doesn’t bode well for impoverished (and voiceless) communities in the Karoo and elsewhere in South Africa where fracking licences are pending.
The weekend includes an "activist training workshop". Could you explain what the training entails and what skills or goals you hope to bring home to those attending?
The training workshop and the resources that will be distributed have been designed by Marina Louw and Muna Lakhani from the Climate Justice Campaign and Earthlife Africa respectively. The idea is to equip activists with a set of tools that will allow them to educate members of their own communities about the dangers of fracking. (For more specific info on the workshop please contact Marina Louw at [email protected] or 082 214 8888.)
Steve Newman and Greg Georgiades are performing at the rally. How long have you been working with them? Are they anti-fracking, or is this simply a performance like any other?
I have known Steve since the late eighties. He lives in Uniondale, which is also a small town on the edge of the Karoo. Last year he performed solo here in Nieu-Bethesda to raise funds for the Karoo farmers’ legal battle to oppose fracking. At the beginning of the year when I saw him in Johannesburg and Cape Town he was performing with Greg and when I approached them to come on board for this event, there was not a moment’s hesitation.
Apart from creating general awareness, what concrete goals do you have for this weekend and what do you hope the participants will accomplish and “take home with them” for further activism?
South Africa is at a critical junction and as a nation we are faced with two possibilities: either we allow the country to slide completely into a Banana Republic; or we begin to engage much more constructively and responsibly as citizens of this fledgling democracy and in doing so, to challenge bad decisions before they are implemented. Events like this – where people from completely different backgrounds come together in support of the same cause – will form part of a new kind of activism and social responsibility that has the potential to impact positively on the future development of this country for every South African. It is in this light that the Climate Justice Campaign will be supplying all participants with the resource materials that will allow them to replicate the workshop in their own communities.