The multi award-winning documentary The Shore Break is having its South African premiere at the Durban International Film Festival. It investigates the government’s plans for a Wild Coast toll road and how the local people feel about it, writes ESTELLE SINKINS.
DOCUMENTARY film-maker Ryley Grunenwald is concerned that the government will force people from their homes as it moves ahead with plans to build the Wild Coast toll road.
These concerns seem justified as Gugile Nkwinti, Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, said in a speech in Bizana in the Eastern Cape last week that, with 13 months left before the proposed start of construction in 2017, they need to decide “where we are going to relocate people who have to make way for the road”.
He added: “If court processes against the construction of the toll road persist, the project will start in 2017. Before construction resumes, houses, graves, animal veld and mielie fields will be relocated to suitable alternative land.”
The justification for this move is that the construction will provide employment opportunities for those living on the Wild Coast.
For some in the local community, it appears to be another step to supporting the plans of the Australian company MRC to begin open-cast mining on a 22 km by 1,5 km long stretch of coast.
Grunenwald, whose multi award-winning documentary The Shore Break puts the mining project and the N2 highway firmly in the spotlight, said the government’s plans have left the local community deeply divided.
Some see the developments as the beginning of the destruction of a way of life, while others regard it as a beacon of economic hope for the region.
Nonhle Mbuthuma, a young local eco-tour guide, wants to develop eco-tourism to protect her community’s homes, farms, graves and traditional lifestyle. But her cousin Zamille “Madiba” Qunya, a local entrepreneur, is supportive of the proposed mining operations and highway construction.
Commenting on the minister’s announcement, Mbuthuma and fellow Amadiba Crisis Committee member Mzamo Dlamini, said they are determined not to move from their land.
“The people of Umgungundlovu — the people who Minister Nkwinti wants to ‘relocate’ — were purposefully excluded from this meeting,” she said. “It makes no sense to hold this meeting in Mbizana. There is no N2 toll road planned there. The N2 is planned for the Amadiba coast. Why does the minister not go to the coast?
“No one here has been consulted on your plans, Minister Nkwinti. We have long been demanding answers, but with no response from the government or Sanral’s Nazir Alli. We will not move for mining and we will not move for a four to six-lane highway toll road.”
A survey commissioned by Sanral claims there is “an almost unanimous level of support” for the development, which it says promises much-needed employment in the area for poor communities on the Wild Coast.
But Mbuthuma says lack of infrastructure does not automatically mean poverty. “How can we be poor when we have land?” she asked. “We grow maize, sweet potatoes, terro yams, potatoes, onions, spinach, carrots, lemons, guava and we sell some of it to the market. We fish and we eat eggs and chicken. This agriculture is what should be developed here.
“We have cattle for weddings and traditional rituals. We have goats for ceremonies. We are not a part of the one out of four South Africans who go hungry to bed. We have a life.”
Asked how the documentary — which is having its South African premiere at the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) — came about, Grunenwald, a former St John’s DSG pupil who grew up on a farm in Thornville, said it stemmed from her love for the Wild Coast.
“My grandmother grew up in the area and when I was at school in Pietermaritzburg I would spend holidays on the Wild Coast,” said Grunenwald. “When I heard about the proposed mining and the highway I was horrified. The Wild Coast is my favourite place in the world and I was devastated that it might be destroyed.”
When she began to do research, however, she realised that it was not a black-and-white issue. “Spending time with Madiba definitely made me see things from a broader perspective,” said Grunenwald. “He pointed out things that I couldn’t deny: the Wild Coast’s dire need for more schools, hospitals and employment.
“On the other hand, Nonhle wants development that would last longer than the 25-year lifespan of the mine. She believes alternative development such as expansive eco-tourism could develop the area without people having to give up their land and livelihood.
“Throughout production I kept changing my mind as to who was more ‘right’ about the development of the Wild Coast. The complexity intrigued me and I wanted to allow the audience to see things from both sides.”
The director is delighted that the film is being screened at Diff and hopes that as many people as possible will see it. “We tried really hard not to take sides when we filmed it. We didn’t want to tell people what to think … we want them to make up their own minds,” she said.
After Diff, The Shore Break — which was named the best feature-length documentary at the 2015 International Environmental Film Festival (Fife) in Paris and won the Backsberg Audience Award for South African documentary at the recent Encounters Film Festival — is heading to film festivals in Scotland, Iceland and Canada in the coming months.
Grunenwald has also, with the help of the Bertha Britdoc Connect Fund, been able to use the film for outreach work. It has had free screenings on the Wild Coast, and has been screened to other communities facing similar development struggles.
“We’re regularly partnering with more NGOs who want to use The Shore Break in their work around development, community engagement and extractive industries,” said Grunenwald.
Asked how challenging it is to be a documentary film-maker, Grunenwald, whose previous film The Dawn of a New Day, was also screened at Diff, said the Department of Trade and Industry Film Rebate Scheme is a big help. That said, it is still challenging to get funding. “A lot of our funding came from the Gauteng Film Commission, the National Film and Video Foundation, the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany,” she added.
Despite this, Grunenwald loves her job. “I love any kind of storytelling … but what I love about documentaries is being able to see the story unfold before your eyes … and then, when you have finished the film, knowing that it can have an impact on the situation.”
• The Shore Break will be screened tomorrow (July 18) at 4.30 pm, 10 am on July 21 and 8 pm on July 24 at Suncoast CineCentre.
For more information, go to http://www.theshore breakmovie.com or like the Facebook page theshorebreakmovie. You can also follow the film on Twitter @theshorebreak.
• The Durban International Film Festival runs until July 26. For more information, go to http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za
This article first appeared in The Witness.
Grunenwald’s other work
RYLEY Grunenwald’s previous documentary, The Dawn of a New Day, centred on a successful plastic surgeon who leaves his private practice to join a hospital ship offering free surgeries to the people of Benin in West Africa.
Set predominantly on the Africa Mercy hospital ship, the documentary follows the life and work of Dr Tertius Venter, a plastic surgeon who gave up his successful private practice in East London to serve with Mercy ships three times a year.