Communities step up a gear to tackle industrial pollution

16 July 2001 - You can taste SASOL on your lips, even if you are living in Parys. This is what Free State MPP, Tate Makgoe, said concerning the impact of industrial pollution on residents. Industrial pollution knows no boundaries. Community members from a number of industrial areas in Southern Africa came together in Sasolburg over the past weekend to develop a strategy for civil society to tackle industrial air pollution. Yesterday, Monday the 15th July, this strategy was presented to high profile government, representatives.

The workshop, convened by groundWork, brought together residents from Sasolburg, Secunda, Cape Town (Table View and Joe Slovo communities), South Durban, Mozambique and Swaziland.

The workshop included a toxic tour of Sasolburg, hosted by the Sasolburg Environmental Committee, on Sunday. After the toxic tour, all participants agreed that Sasolburg is by far the worst polluted town in Southern Africa. Seipate Mokoka, a resident from Sasolburg who got involved in the struggle against industrial pollution when her daughter continuously suffered from respiratory illnesses, informed participants that what they witnessed is a daily occurrence for Sasolburg residents.

Bulelwa Madolo from Cape Town said: “What we have seen today is really bad. It is as if none cares about Sasolburg because it is not a tourist destination.”

The main outcome of the workshop was the development of a five-point strategy for tackling industrial air pollution in South Africa. The strategy is based on the principle that communities affected by industrial air pollution are better able to defend and promote their environmental interests at local, national and international levels. It is premised on a belief that communities have much to contribute in the quest for cleaner air and a healthier environment. (See below.)

Participants welcomed the initiative by government to develop new air quality legislation to replace outdated legislation favouring industry at the expense of people’s health. (A draft bill on air quality is expected to be released for public comment later this year.)

Participants also debunked the myths created by industry (especially SASOL) who claim that residents through burning cheap coal for heat and cooking purposes are mostly to blame for pollution. Patrick Duma from Embalenhle, Secunda, emphasized that the harmful chemicals found in recent community air samples came from industrial processes. And after all, Sasol sells the cheap coal to communities. They are now using gas to run their refineries, why can’t they provide this cleaner fuel to communities.

Workshop participant, Ann Marie Jordaan, from the Table View Residents Association asked why, if the government could pass and enforce strict laws on cigarette smoking, could government not regulate refineries and other chemical industries that release far more and much worse toxics.

The national air quality strategy developed over the weekend consists of five pillars, namely:

The strategy was developed to enable communities to:

For more information contact Ardiel Soeker (groundWork’s Air Quality Coordinator) on 082 940 8669 or Bobby Peek (groundWork’s director) on 033-342 5662.