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Shell Shocked: High Court Schools Oil Giant on Culture and Climate

Posted by John Donovan: 18 May 2024

Well, well, well, look who’s been schooled by South Africa’s High Court! Our favorite environmental villain, Shell, thought it could waltz onto South Africa’s pristine Wild Coast and dig for fossil fuels. But Indigenous communities weren’t having any of it, and they fought back with some serious legal chops.

In 2021, Shell announced it wanted to blast the south-eastern coast with a 3D seismic survey, all in the name of finding more ways to ruin the planet. This genius idea threatened marine life and local communities, not to mention the climate. But who cares about that when there’s oil to be found, right?

Enter the Indigenous communities, armed with their ancestral pride and a sense of justice. They dragged Shell to court and won not one, but two cases! Shell got slapped with an interim interdict, halting their noisy, destructive survey, and had their exploration rights revoked. Naturally, Shell is appealing because, well, why not prolong the embarrassment?

If the Supreme Court of Appeal sides with the High Court, it’s a big win for the communities. If not, Shell gets to continue pretending it cares about procedural fairness while ignoring actual fairness.

These cases are groundbreaking. Instead of the usual environmental arguments, the communities leaned into their Indigenous rights and knowledge. They argued that Shell’s noisy toys would mess with their cultural and spiritual relationship with the sea. “The land belongs to the community – but the community also belongs to the land,” said Sinegugu Zukulu from Baleni village. Not something you’d hear at a Shell board meeting, that’s for sure.

The courts, in a rare display of wisdom, recognized the value of Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices. They acknowledged that these communities know a thing or two about sustainable living – unlike a certain oil company we know. The judges highlighted the duty to protect cultural rights, noting that the Amadiba community “practise(s) the customary practices which they have been taught, namely when they fish, they think of tomorrow.” Imagine that, thinking of tomorrow!

Shell’s pathetic attempt to mitigate their environmental impact was also thrown out the window. The court wasn’t buying Shell’s half-hearted promises and instead stood up for the community’s right to keep their ancestors undisturbed and happy.

So here’s to the Indigenous communities who showed Shell that there are bigger things at stake than corporate profits. This isn’t just a win for South Africa; it’s a win for Indigenous rights and the planet. Cheers to that!

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