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Indigenous Communities Win Landmark Cases Against Shell in South Africa

In 2021, Shell announced plans to explore for fossil fuels off South Africa’s Wild Coast, sparking immediate legal action from Indigenous communities. They successfully secured an interim interdict and had Shell’s exploration rights set aside, although Shell is appealing. The Supreme Court of Appeal began hearing the case on May 17, 2024. If upheld, this ruling will affirm Indigenous rights; if overturned, Shell can resume exploration. Unique to these cases, the communities based their arguments on Indigenous rights and knowledge, emphasizing their cultural and spiritual relationship with the land and sea. Courts recognized the importance of these cultural practices and the communities’ sustainable living knowledge. This marks the first time Indigenous cultural rights were central to climate litigation in South Africa, potentially setting a precedent for future cases. The outcomes reflect a significant engagement by South African courts with Indigenous beliefs and the constitutional duty to protect cultural and environmental rights.