Local campaigners have blocked Shell from exploring oil on South Africa’s eastern coastline. In a battle pitting the oil company against the community, the court ruled that Shell halt its seismic tests. Activists and locals argue that the seismic tests are detrimental to the environment. The tests involved blasting sound waves on a coast full of whales, dolphins and seals.

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Campaigners against the company welcomed the ruling, calling it a win for the locals. The campaigners represent Indigenous groups that live near the Wild Coast. According to South Africa’s constitution, only the locals have rights to the area for small-scale fishing and spiritual purposes. The campaigners say the government bypassed this right by allowing Shell to explore oil in the region.

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Lawyers demonstrated to the court that Shell had failed to involve the local community in its plans. They also provided evidence that the seismic waves could affect marine life. The ruling comes just a few weeks after a failed attempt by environmental lobby groups to halt Shell’s exploration.

According to Wilmien Wicomb, an attorney at the Legal Resources Centre, this ruling is symbolic and will help protect the rights of Indigenous communities living on the coast. “This case is really a culmination of the struggle of communities along the Wild Coast for the recognition of their customary rights to land and fishing, and to respect for their customary processes,” Wicomb said.

Sinegugu Zukulu, a senior campaigner for Sustaining the Wild Coast, added, “The voices of the voiceless have been heard. The voices of the directly affected people have at last been heard, and the constitutional rights of indigenous people have been upheld.”

Those challenging Shell’s activities on the Wild Coast argue that the approval of the permit to explore oil on the coast occurred under old laws. The company received approval in 2014 under rushed circumstances, just months before new environmental laws came into effect. Activists and locals now want the company to comply with current environmental laws.

“This case reminds us that constitutional rights belong to the people and not to government,” Zukulu said. “And that the only way that we can [ensure] that the rights of indigenous people are living – and not just written on paper – is if we challenge government decisions that disregard these rights. This victory is hugely significant because we have made sure that the rights of indigenous communities are kept alive.”

Via The Guardian

Lead image via Pixabay