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groundWork is a non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organization working primarily in Southern Africa in the areas of Climate & Energy Justice, Coal, Environmental Health, Global Green and Healthy Hospitals, and Waste. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International.


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More tough questions for climate rogue Sasol at its AGM on Friday

September 24, 2016. Secunda. Coal mining and powers stations in Mpumalanga. Picture: JAMES OATWAY for CER

20 November 2020 - On Friday, 20 November 2020, activists and lawyers from the Life After Coal campaign will participate in the virtual Annual General Meeting of Sasol Limited. They will be joining community and civil society organisations and activists from South Africa and Mozambique, all of whom have acquired shares in Sasol and therefore attend as shareholders, to ask pertinent questions of Sasol's board and management.

The Life After Coal campaign consists of environmental justice groups groundWork and Earthlife Africa and law centre the Centre for Environmental Rights.

Sasol is South Africa's second highest emitter of greenhouse gases,and its Synfuels plant in Secunda is reportedly the largest single-source point of emissions on the planet. Sasol is listed as one of the so-called Carbon Majors, the 100 companies estimated to be responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Sasol's mega-facilities in Sasolburg and Secunda have been causing significant pollution impacts affecting communities living in Secunda, Zamdela and surrounds for decades. A recent expert modelling report found that air pollution from Sasol's Secunda Synfuels plant alone is responsible for at least 33 additional deaths per year. Accordingly, between 2020 and 2025, at least 160 people may die from illnesses attributed to Sasol's air pollution in Secunda.

Read the full media release here.

Landmark “Deadly Air” pollution case against government to be heard in May 2021

Photo: Daylin Paul

16 November 2020 - Every day, people living and working on the Mpumalanga Highveld are breathing toxic, polluted air that is harmful to their health and well-being. This is the basis of the Deadly Air case, which will be heard by the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on 17 to 19 May 2021.

The applicants in the court case, environmental justice groups groundWork and the Vukani Environmental Movement, launched this Constitutional litigation in June 2019, requesting the court to declare that the poor ambient air quality in the Highveld Priority Area constitutes a violation of the Constitutional right to an environment not harmful to health or well-being. They are also asking the court to order the government to take further steps to improve the air quality in the area. The applicants are represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Prof David Boyd, was admitted as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case by the Pretoria High Court on 5 November 2020. Professor Boyd is represented by Lawyers for Human RightsSubmissions will be made to the court on his behalf during the hearing.

Read the full media release here.

Major climate impacts scupper another coal power plant

Activists from Earthlife Africa demonstrate outside the court during the hearing of the first Thabametsi coal-fired power station court case in March 2017. Image: James Oatway for CER

11 November 2020 - Major climate impacts and exorbitant costs have sounded the death knell for one of the last new proposed coal-fired power stations in South Africa: Thabametsi in water-scarce Limpopo.

Last week, environmental justice groups Earthlife Africa and groundWork, who have been challenging the Thabametsi power station in court since 2016, secured agreement from both Thabametsi and the state for the environmental authorisation issued for this power plant by the Department of Environment in February 2015 to be set aside. Earthlife and groundWork argued in court papers that former Environment Minister Molewa had disregarded the devastating climate impacts of the 557MW Thabametsi project (originally approved for a capacity of 1200MW).

The setting aside of Thabametsi’s environmental authorisation means that, should it still plan to proceed, it would have to seek a new authorisation from the Environment Department – a major setback for the project.

Read the full media release here.

Case against Tendele Coal in the Supreme Court of Appeal

02 November 2020 - On Tuesday, 3 November 2020 at 9:45, the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein will hear the appeal by the Global Environmental Trust and others against a 2018 judgement of the Pietermaritzburg High Court, in which that court had refused to grant an interdict application brought by the Applicants against Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd and had ordered public interest litigants to pay the legal costs of the coal mining company.

The court hearing is of particular significance because of the shocking murder of 65 year old Fikile Ntshangase at her home in Somkhele, KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday, 22 October 2020. Mam Ntshangase was a member of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), one of the applicants in the appeal, and a vocal activist against the expansion of the anthracite mine near the border of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve.

Read the full Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) media release here.

Justiça Ambiental in Mozambique, Friends of the Earth International and CETIM (Centre Europe – Tiers Monde), call for the strengthening of International monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to protect the rights of individuals against the actions of Trans-National Corporations (TNCs)


29 October 2020 - Justiça Ambiental in Mozambique, representing also Friends of the Earth International and CETIM (Centre Europe – Tiers Monde) today delivered a short statement during the 6th session of negotiations on a UN Legally Binding Instrument on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights. The statement focuses on the proposed Article 15 of the instrument dealing with International Monitoring and Enforcement mechanisms.

You can read the statement here.

You can watch the Plenary discussions on UN Web TV here.

Statement and expression of condolence by groundWork - Friends of the Earth South Africa Director, Bobby Peek, at the memorial service of MaFikile Ntshagase at Somkhele, KwaZulu- Natal, South Africa on 29 October 2020

Read the statement here.

Lea la versión en español aquí.

Watch a short video here.

groundWork calls for a speedy and urgent investigation to arrest and put on trial those who are responsible for the murder of Mama Fikile Ntshangase

28 October 2020 - groundWork has today sent a letter to the President of the Republic and the Minister of Police calling for a speedy and urgent investigation to arrest and put on trial those who are responsible for the murder of Mama Fikile Ntshangase on 22 October.

In the letter groundWork points out that:

"It is critical that the Minister is seen to be acting for the safety and in the interest of the community, as people currently are living in fear. In April 2019, a coalition of NGOs, including groundWork, working with Human Rights Watch, released a report on the Environment of Fear in South Africa's Mining-Affected Communities, calling on all National Government Agencies, including the Office of the President, to "ensure that law enforcement authorities impartially, promptly, and thoroughly investigate any allegations or incidents of attacks, threats and harassment against community rights defenders and the wider community, for exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and protest, and adopt a plan that would address the failure to adequately investigate such cases".

Just prior to this report, in August 2018, the South African Human Rights Commission released a scathing report, titled "National Hearing on the Underlying Socio-economic Challenges of Mining-affected Communities in South Africa, stating that the government is responsible for the harm done to mining-affected communities because of its "failure to monitor compliance, poor enforcement, and a severe lack of coordination'. This report also focused on the Somkhele area."

You can read the full letter here.

Murder of Somkhele Environmental Activist Fikile Ntshangase

Fikile Ntshangase

Murdered activist, Mama Fikile Ntshangase

23 October 2020 - “I refused to sign. I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.” Tragically, grandmother Fikile Ntshangase’s words became a reality when she was gunned down in her home at Ophondweni, near Mtubatuba, on the evening of 22 October 2020.

Mama Nsthangashe was the Vice-Chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (“MCEJO”). MCEJO has been challenging the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkele in KwaZulu-Natal by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd. One of the court cases brought by MCEJO is scheduled for hearing in the Supreme Court of Appeal on 3 November 2020.

On Thursday, 22 October 2020 at about 18:30, four gunmen arrived at Mam Ntshangase’s house, where she lives with her 11-year old grandson. Current reports say that they forced themselves into the home and shot her 5 times, and that she died on the scene.

Tendele’s coal mining operations have caused untold destruction of the environment and the homes and livelihoods of the residents of Somkhele.

Read the full media release here.

New anti-SLAPP website launched by Asina Loyiko campaign

21 October 2020 - On 20 October 2020, the Asina Loyiko campaign launched its new website to serve as a resource and connection hub for activists confronted by SLAPP suits (strategic litigation against public participation) and other uses of the law to discourage and silence activism and free speech.

The collaborative Asina Loyiko: United Against Corporate Bullying* campaign, launched in 2019, is a movement of lawyers, activists and civil society organisations who have come together to fight and resist corporate bullying. The campaign brings together a broad range of diverse civil society actors concerned about the use of the law for corporate bullying, and empowering and supporting activists to resist intimidation and to continue to challenge corporations who violate human rights, social and environmental justice.

Since its launch, the Asina Loyiko campaign has connected local and international actors who are defending legal action and threats, and those developing anti-SLAPP* strategies. Over time, it become evident that a local resource hub would be crucial to the success and amplification of the objectives of the campaign.

Read the full Centre for Environmental Rights media release here.

We Told You So!!! - Civil Society calls on World Bank to stop funding the violation of environmental and Human Rights

19 October 2020 - Eskom’s catastrophic Medupi coal-fired project was in trouble from the start. The World Bank came to Eskom’s rescue in 2010 with a massive loan that would foster the project. It was envisaged that the funding would bring financial stability to Eskom, support future economic growth, contribute to poverty alleviation, and help South Africa onto a ‘low carbon path’. This has not happened.

groundWork, Earthlife Africa and more than 200 supporting organisations warned the World Bank that it would fail on all counts. Medupi would destabilise Eskom and the country’s economy, exacerbate poverty and add 30 million tonnes of carbon to South Africa’s annual emissions – in addition to other harmful air pollution impacts. And so it has.

Electricity tariffs have escalated making it near impossible for people to afford electricity. The inequality gap has widened, Eskom is teetering on the edge of collapse and is dragging the South African economy down with it. The debt costs have skyrocketed and are now burdening South Africans with a dollar-based debt, while many cannot afford the high price of energy.

Read the full media release here.

World Bank Action Day protest poster

World Bank Action Day

16 October 2020 - Public health professionals from around the world have classified coal as a lethal product, calling for divestment from coal and other fossil fuel industries. Yet the World Bank continues to fund the “killer fumes” from Eskom’s Medupi coal-fired power station.

Further information:

#deadly debt; #odious debt; #wb out of fossil fuels

Law, people, planet, justice: CER turns 10!

Illustration: Phathu Nembilwi for CER

Illustration: Phathu Nembilwi for CER

06 OCTOBER 2020 - This week, the Centre for Environmental Rights honours a decade of litigation, advocacy and activism for environmental justice: it has been 10 years since CER opened its doors in 2010.

Where it all started

In the late 2000s, although section 24 of the South African Constitution guaranteed the right to a healthy environment, the concept of “environmental rights” was still relatively new in South Africa. Implementation of the environmental laws promulgated to give effect to that right was slow, and compliance and enforcement hampered by flawed tools, and limited resources. The lack of transparency and accountability from corporate and state actors in respect of environmental governance was of great concern. The horrific environmental and social legacy of our mining industry was evident, yet new mining and production rights were being granted at pace, without regard for that legacy, and in places that our government had itself identified as being of biodiversity or hydrological sensitivity and importance. Moreover, mining-affected communities were already suffering the consequences of mining rights being granted without adequate community consultation or benefit-sharing, and seeing the destruction of their livelihoods and heritage.

It was in this context that the idea of a legal organisation to support the non-profit environmental sector in South Africa took root. A year of intensive consultation with NGOs and community organisations across South Africa grew into the formal establishment of the Centre for Environmental Rights in October 2009.

In April 2010, with only a handful of staff, working with existing NGOs and community organisations, the new Centre set out to shift these trends using the law. While building a legal case for the declaration of no-go areas for mining, we challenged new mines being proposed, or already underway, in sensitive areas; we started collecting and publishing evidence of disclosure of impacts and compliance by companies, and tracking the results of compliance monitoring and enforcement by government.

Read the full CER story here.

For more news and our news archives click here, or here to access our collection of media items.

Cover of June 2020 Newsletter

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