Watchdog boosts fight to preserve EC coastal zone

THE fight to save the Eastern Cape’s pristine coastal zone from illegal development has stepped up a gear, thanks to Grahamstown’s government watchdog – the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) – adding a green feather to its cap.

Nicholas Scarr, a new recruit to the Rhodes University-based pressure group, yesterday showed several examples of blatant disregard for environmental legislation on a short stretch of bank along the Bushman’s River.

According to Scarr, the illegal clearing of indigenous bush to give holiday home owners a better view of the river for a few weeks of the year and other serious environmental infringements were a microcosm of a greater green problem throughout the Eastern Cape.

The appointment of Scarr, a former senior official in the provincial government’s environmental department turned eco-activist, brings years of valuable experience at the bureaucratic coalface to the PSAM team.

“Going forward, PSAM will work on creating and maintaining pressure on the state by systematically monitoring its performance, exposing inadequacies, and engaging in ongoing advocacy activities.”

He added, however, that wherever possible, PSAM would engage constructively with the state to hopefully add value in policy and legislative initiatives.

“PSAM has concerns about the state’s performance in terms of its policy and legislative mandates, and, in keeping with its historical approach in relation to other areas of governance, will be tracking the state’s performance in the Eastern Cape, with initial emphasis on the coastal zone.”

According to Scarr, a huge problem was the issue of entitlement that led many affluent home owners to believe they could do what they liked – even outside the boundaries of their properties.

Serious environmental transgressions pointed out by Scarr in Kenton-on-sea included a contractor illegally opening up an access route to the river through the indigenous forest to allow a front-end loader to access the bank.

Dozens of trees – including milkwoods – were ripped out and a concrete pathway was constructed on the river bank without an environmental impact assessment.

Pipes, which appear to convey liquid sewage effluent from riverfront houses to the water’s edge, were also allegedly laid on the bank.

“Since in my view these activities were unlawful they were reported to the responsible authorities, but no effective intervention occurred and the work was allowed to run to completion,” Scarr said.

During a separate visit, Scarr noted that a salt marsh on the western Bushman’s River bank had been sprayed with herbicide and a forest on public open space had been severely pruned to improve the river view from a nearby house.

“This kind of illegal behaviour is happening all over the province. Some people feel a sense of entitlement and annex the river and the surrounding areas for their own use.”

Attempts to obtain comment from the Ndlambe Municipality and Jan Kapp of the Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs were unsuccessful at the time of going to press.

PSAM is a programme of the Centre for Social Accountability at Rhodes University and has been engaged in social accountability monitoring since 1999 with the aim of improving public service delivery in healthcare, education, social security, housing – and now also the environment.

Story and picture by David MacGregor

Caption: GREEN CONCERNS: Public Service Accountability Monitor watchdog recruit Nicholas Scarr surveys the damage done to coastal forest on the banks of the Bushman’s River by a holiday home owner keen to improve his view

Source: Daily Dispatch