A Ride on the Wild side
South Africa’s ‘wild coast’ is one of the last stretches of unspoiled coastline along our 3000km of beach. The roughly 280km stretch, starts from at the Kei River mouth and ends at the Umtavuma gorge marking the boundary between the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces. While far it is far from wild, in the true sense, it is simply the fact that the area has remained mostly untouched relative to the natal north and south coast, which are blotted with garish developments, strip malls, sugar monoculture, pseudo Tuscan holiday homes and the high rise hotels. By contrast it is pristine, and is characterized by sweeping grasslands, wide-open empty beaches, dazzling estuaries, deep gorges, thick swathes of indigenous forest and waterfalls that cascade into the sea. Rolling hills provide the backdrop and are dotted with homesteads of the traditional Xhosa huts that have been there for centuries.
However all good things have to come to an end. At the time we cycled the 220km section, approval had finally been given by the Dept of Environment Affairs to extend the N2 toll road to cut through the first section of the Wild Coast, Pondoland, internationally recognized for its biodiversity, endemism and beauty. I find this ironic in light of this year being the ‘International Year of Biodiversity’.
Of course I look with the eco-centric eye, I don’t live there so have no idea how difficult life could be for the locals: access to health care, water; infrastructure; opportunities. While I realise there are two sides to this coin, there are without doubt major concerns for me. The 6 days I spent cycling through the landscape and villages made me realise how privileged the locals are to live in such a beautiful unspoiled place, where life is, yes, hard, but simple and sustainable. While a highway may bring with it the goods, opportunities and access, we all know what else it brings – greed, destruction and erosion of local cultural practices that have been sustaining communities long before the colonialists and western economics arrived.
This is after all not just about a highway, it is also about the already planned strip mining of the Xolobeni dunes, canola monoculture production and the inevitable ribbon development and pollution that follows and of course the demise of one of our last remaining coastal assets.