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.


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.

Rhino Oil and Gas at it again!

30 September 2020 - After losing the anti-fracking fight last year to farmers in KwaZulu Natal, Rhino Oil and Gas South Africa (Pty) Ltd have appointed environmental consultancy SLR yet again to apply for a new Exploration Right (350 ER) in the Free State and KwaZulu Natal provinces. This covers an area extending from the Upper Tugela region to Warden and includes 4370 farms in Harrismith, Kestell, Bethlehem, Reitz and Lindley (shown below) and which can also be viewed on the groundWork battlemap.

The sole purpose of holding an Exploration Right is to identify viable petroleum resource areas with the intention to extract which will include extraction methods such as fracking and drilling. Rhino wants to explore for oil, gas, condensate, coal bed methane, helium situated in areas within our water factories or strategic water source areas.

Read the full news item here.

Mining licence for Namibia’s sensitive Kavango region goes underground

28 September 2020 - In a media release on 18 September 2020, the Namibian Ministry of Mines and Energy stated: “To date no onshore production licence for PL073 has been applied for/or granted and no licence for the development of unconventional resources (e.g. Shale Gas) has been applied for/granted in Namibia.”

This seems to be disputed by ReconAfrica on their website. According to them their exploration licence “ entitles ReconAfrica to obtain a 25-year production licence”.

The Namibian mining ministry stated that “the proposed activities will not in any way cause negative impacts to the Okavango Ecosystem” and that “all the necessary environmental impact permits for the project are in place”.

To date, only one-third of the Environmental Impact Assessment has been delivered to the Namibian and civil society members including Avena Jacklin, the Climate and Energy Justice campaign manager for the Southern African-based environmental justice group groundWork. 
She says that “it is shocking that this EIA was authorised at all”.

According to Jacklin, the area that ReconAfrica says it will drill “is part of a critical water network supporting the ecosystems spanning Namibia, Angola and Botswana. Furthermore, documentation on the IAPs (Interested and Affected Parties) and their consultation was missing from the EIA”.

You can read the full Daily Maverick news item here.

Durban's climate plan is drowning in politics with targets far from being reached

27 September 2020 - The Durban Climate Action Plan (CAP) released earlier in September forms part of a drive by 96 cities across the world to address climate change under the banner of the C40 Cities Network, whose goals are linked to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

But Desmond D'Sa, founder of the globally recognised South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), told Daily Maverick eThekwini was "not serious about protecting the environment" as "no major polluter has been fined or prosecuted".

"The city ignored the recommendations of its own health study completed in 2007. This study recommended that all polluters must characterise all chemicals that fenceline communities are exposed to," explained D'Sa

The C40 cities aim to help reduce average temperature increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next 30 years.

Read the full Daily Maverick news item here.

Health Care Without Harm logo

Beyond COVID-19: Toward healthy people, a healthy planet, justice, and equity - A statement by the Health Care Without Harm Global Network

18 September 2020 - As the world responds to COVID-19 and the intertwined social, political, and economic crises it has spawned, we find ourselves at a crossroads. One path takes us back in the direction we came, propping up old structures and systems that have led to this crisis in the first place. The other leads in the direction of an unprecedented set of opportunities and the urgent need to forge a just transition to equitable, resilient societies that provide decent work for all, universal health care, and contribute to a healthy climate.

For our civilization to survive and thrive, we must choose this second path and change systems that place profit over ecological sustainability, health, and wellbeing. We must build structures that benefit all people, especially the vulnerable and the poor. As part of this effort, we must recognize and address the political, social, and economic factors that govern how health or illnesses move through our communities. As many around the world rise up against systemic racism and discrimination, we must also forge a broad, interconnected agenda for change that fosters health equity, ecological sustainability, and social justice.

As part of this vision, the Health Care Without Harm network (HCWH) - our offices and partner organizations around the world - supports the WHO Manifesto for a Healthy Recovery and its prescriptions for a healthy, green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe it is essential to build a global movement for health and environment that contributes to, and becomes part of, the broader social movements for structural change necessary at this critical juncture. We see many hopeful signs of this movement emerging all around the world, taking initiative to forge positive social and environmental change locally, nationally, and globally. This statement is, in many ways, a reflection of that emergent movement, the key issues we believe it must tackle, and the fundamental actions it is already beginning to support.

You can read the full HCWH statement here.

Changing Markets Foundation releases new report exposing the corporate playbook of false solutions to the plastic crisis

17 September 2020 - In the face of the ever-pressing plastic pollution crisis, the plastics industry has continuously pledged their commitment to address this probing problem through voluntary efforts.

However, a new report by the Changing Markets Foundation reveals that these nice sounding promises to address this crisis are a form of distraction to delay and derail legislative solutions to the plastic catastrophe, creating a tidal wave of plastic pollution around the world. Based on research and investigations in over 15 countries across five continents, Talking Trash: The Corporate Playbook of False Solutions exposes how tactics to undermine legislation in individual countries are in fact part of a global approach by Big Plastic to ensure that the corporations most responsible for the plastic crisis evade true accountability for their pollution.

Read the full media release here.

groundWork joins CER call on government to heed public health professionals’ call for climate leadership

Childwearing oxygen mask16 September 2020 - A group of prominent South African public health experts and practitioners has written to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni calling for stronger leadership from the South African government on climate, energy and health in building a post-COVID-19 South Africa.

In a letter to Minister Mboweni on 14 September 2020, the Climate, Energy and Health Special Interest Group of the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA) writes that it is necessary to act now to combat climate change and build a new, resilient economy. The Special Interest Group has appealed to Minister Mboweni to lead his fellow Cabinet members toward securing ecologically sustainable development in South Africa. “People’s health is the bottom line of climate change,” writes the group.

Minister Mboweni is representing South Africa at a G20 health and finance ministers meeting on 17 September 2020, focused on planning for future pandemics.

The PHASA Special Interest Group has urged Minister Mboweni to “ensure that these plans include investments in health systems, that they are inclusive, and that they fully integrate environmental sustainability and effective climate responses for the health of present and future generations”.

Read the full media item here.

Prize Winners Today: Environmental Justice with Bobby Peek

15 September 2020 -

“A march is not a movement.”

“It’s just a point in time when people come together. Movements are everyday lived realities and processes. They are about change over time and not change through one moment.”

Equating the development of a social movement to a tree’s strengthening roots (slow, sustained, and motivated) and its marches and rallies to the tree’s flowers (vibrant, colorful, and expressive), Bobby Peek’s interpretation of today’s social upheaval reveals his foundational understanding of a long history of environmental injustice in South Africa. Needless to say, our team was eager to speak with Bobby as part of the Prize Winners Today series.

Since winning the Goldman Environmental Prize at the young age of 30, social activist and environmental champion Sven “Bobby” Peek (South Africa, 1998) has maintained an energetic drumbeat of community organizing. Over two decades later, he finds himself and his NGO, Groundwork, uniquely positioned to meet today’s global moment of social and environmental awareness.

You can read the full article by Goldman's Ellen Lomonico here.

Minister Revokes Karpowership NEMA Section 30 Directive

08 September 2020 - Sonnyboy Bapela, Chief Directorate of Compliance at the Department of Environment Fisheries and Forestry (DEFF) issued a verbal directive in terms of Section 30 (A) (1) of the National Environmental Act, 1998 (NEMA) on 26th June 2020 – authorizing Karpowership SA Pty Ltd to generate power in excess of 50MW from floating gas ships. These were to be located within the ports of Ngqura, Richards Bay, Saldanha Bay and Durban including the installation of 132KV steel towers and gas pipeline infrastructure along the seabed. On 16th July the written Directive was signed off by the Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP), Hanti Plomp, of Triplo4SustainableSolutions, and not DEFF. 

This was wrong for many reasons. Firstly, Section 30 (A) 1 does not authorize new generation capacity in the particular circumstances. It only allows for specific activities to prevent an emergency situation such as a discharge of excess water to prevent a dam burst. This implies that there must be a degree of urgency. The long construction times and need to obtain necessary licenses and permits cannot provide instantaneous relief for emergencies.

Read the full media report here.

groundWork Submits Comment on DEFF’s Notices to Fast Track Environmental Assessment Processes

08 September 2020 - In response to a Public Notice calling organisations to engage with the DEFF, groundWork has prepared detailed comments on various Environmental Management Instruments. Our comments were delivered to the Director-General of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) on Friday 4th September 2020.

Public participation processes have not reached all the people and communities living in the affected areas. The greatest impact of fossil fuels and their infrstructure is felt by poor and marginalised communities. The proposed increase in gas pipelines, infrastructure and related activities, will result in increased risks and will impact negatively on human health, ecosystems and water resources.

Specialist studies and reports have been excluded from SEA processes. The oil and gas industry, worldwide, already contributes 71% to global greenhouse gas emissions. Gas development in South Africa will increase our greenhouse gas emissions and must not be falsely described as a source of clean fuel. Job creation within the industry has not been properly addressed. The development of gas pipeline infrastructure will not create sustainable jobs. Gas infrastructure will become redundant (and dangerous) in less than 20 years, while the lifespan of solar installations currently is 30 years.

Read the full media item here.

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

Cover of June 2020 Newsletter

Read our latest Newsletter (June 2020) here.

Cover of March 2020 newsletter

Read our March 2020 Newsletter here

Read the 2019 groundWork report: Down to Zero - the Politics of Just Transition


View the groundWork 'Battle Map'


A groundWork Special Report