Another Vaal Triangle is Necessary, President Mbeki!

25 October 2006 - At Monday’s launch of ‘The groundWork [1] Report 2006 - Poisoned Spaces: Manufacturing Wealth, Producing Poverty’ [2] which highlights the failure of the State’s corporate-led development model that claims to benefit the poor, community people who live in the Vaal Industrial Triangle called for the publication to be used as a ‘weapon’ in their struggle for the delivery of promised rights and democracy. In response to this the groundWork Report is being delivered to President Mbeki [3] and his ‘International Investment Council’.

The launch was attended by more than sixty people from various community based organisations in the Vaal Triangle who collectively represent the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance [4], an alliance formed to challenge the environmental injustices perpetrated by Vaal-based corporations such as Mittal Steel, Samancor and Sasol. These industries are the industrial giants in South Africa, with a long track record of grossly negligent environmental pollution, worker health related issues and callous worker deaths. Mittal Steel and Sasol are recognised as the worst polluters in the area. They are also ‘blue chip’ stocks on global stock markets, extracting the wealth of the Vaal Triangle while producing poverty, illness and death on the ground.

This publication identifies the weakness of current governance systems in managing the environment in the Vaal Triangle and safeguarding the health of its residents. It further highlights how the present industrial system, which depends on economic growth, is the very same system that is destroying people and places in the Vaal Triangle. This process of wealth extraction and dispossession of people’s basic human rights is guaranteed for so long as President Mbeki has faith in the very same people who own these polluting industries, such as Lakshmi Mittal who advises the Presidency on investment. Will they ever say anything that will hurt their profits?

The report challenges the ‘two economies’ model of Asgisa. This makes it appear that making wealth and making poverty are separate processes, that people are poor because they ‘lack development’. The history of the Vaal Triangle shows that this is not so. Development produced poverty for the majority, even as it created great wealth for the few. It required that people should be dispossessed of their land to force them into industrial labour and now requires that they are dispossessed of their jobs, through downsizing and ‘rationalisation’, in the very industries that they created.

Development has also produced a poisoned space which damages people’s bodies at the same time as it destroys their environment. Local people now find it difficult to get what jobs are on offer because they fail the pre-employment medical tests. The corporations require the fresh blood of those they have not yet polluted.

To resist, mobilise against and change the system is critical in bringing about a new Vaal Triangle. Phineas Malapela, Chairperson of VEJA, welcomed the publication and indicated that: “The struggle must be accompanied by what is written here … and that the Report must be taken to the Union Buildings” during the next mobilisation.

Nina Benjamin from Khanya College called on people in the Vaal Triangle to reflect seriously on the publication and recognise that: “The Report is not just a document, it is the voice of issues people are facing”.

Bobby Peek of groundWork said: “This is groundWork’s fifth annual publication on the State of Environmental Justice in South Africa. On the evidence presented here, which shows the Vaal Triangle as a microcosm, albeit a large one, of South Africa, it is clear that the State scores poorly on delivering environmental justice to the citizens of South Africa. Critically and urgently another Vaal Triangle is necessary – one that is created by people rather than by corporations.”

End

Contact: Bobby Peek – groundWork: 082 464 1383
Notes:

[1] groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa is an environmental justice organisation focusing on air pollution, waste and corporate abuse and which works with community organisations living adjacent to petro-chemical facilities in south Durban, Sasolburg, Secunda and Cape Town. (www.groundwork.org.za)

groundWork is the Friends of the Earth chapter for South Africa. Friends of the Earth International is the world's largest grassroots environmental network, uniting 71 diverse national member groups and some 5,000 local activist groups on every continent. With approximately 1.5 million members and supporters around the world, FoEI campaigns on today's most urgent environmental and social issues. FoEI challenges the current model of economic and corporate globalization, and promote solutions that will help to create environmentally sustainable and socially just societies. (www.foei.org)

[2]Download the report here

[3] 25 October 2006

The Honourable President Thabo Mbeki

Union Buildings

Private Bag X1000,

Pretoria,

0001

By Post

E-mail: allanp@po.gov.za; thandi@po.gov.za

Dear Sir

Another Vaal Triangle is Necessary

The Vaal Triangle was a key geographic area in the struggle against apartheid. The actions of the people of the Vaal played a critical role in shaping South Africa as we know it today.

Today, the Vaal Triangle faces the same environmental justice challenges as it did under the apartheid development model. Then, the people were forced off the land and into industrial jobs where worker safety and dignity was of no concern to corporate bosses. Today, these industries have failed to meet the challenges of the democratic era. Their priority for profits has resulted in people losing their livelihoods and health.

The Vaal Triangle has been one of groundWork’s key focus areas since 2000. We have worked with community people and in particular the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance to better understand and respond to the environmental injustices created by industrial pollution as well as poor service delivery.

This year we have undertaken an intensive study to understand the developmental challenges in the area, and to reflect upon this to inform our understanding the State of Environmental Justice in South Africa. We conducted the study in dialogue with local people and organisations and are saddened by what we have found.

Please find attached a copy of our research: The groundWork Report 2006 - Poisoned Spaces: Manufacturing Wealth, Producing Poverty [1]. We hope that The Presidency will study the report and consider it in its future development planning. We are also sending the report to your ‘International Investment Council’, for they are key actors in the challenges facing the people of South Africa. In particular, Mr Lakshmi N. Mittal owns Mittal Steel, one of the giants of the Vaal Triangle, and is facing legal challenges for historical pollution in the area.

We hope that you will consider our concerns and respond in a manner that would lead to a meaningful change in the Vaal Triangle.

Sincerely yours,

S. (Bobby) Peek

Director

(not signed sent electronically)

CC:

International Investment Council

South African Ministers

 

[4] The Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance is an alliance of community, environmental, religious and adult education organisations working in, and individuals living in the Vaal Triangle, challenging all forms of environmental degradation by local industries, including Iscor Steel Works (now Mittal Steel), Sasol and Samancor.