Who's fooling who? Government's Clean Fires Campaign nothing more than political spin!

9th June 2011 - Community people, together with groundWork [1] and VEJA [2] meeting in the Vaal Triangle today, question government's commitment to clean air for poor people in South Africa, as they face another polluted winter because government has failed to deliver on their promise of an environment, decent housing and energy that is not harmful to one's health and well-being.

Today, Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi, launched the 'Winter Clean Fires Campaign, in Etwatwa, Stompie Skosana Hall, Ekurhuleni Municipality, Gauteng'.[3] This campaign calls on people to continue burning coal indoors using the Basa Njengo Magogo method.

We believe that this campaign is nothing more than political spin to address the ongoing failure of government to respond meaningfully to the challenge of household air pollution common in the Vaal and Highveld areas. Annually Deputy Minister Mabudafhasi rolls out this campaign in June [4], however, worryingly, the Ministry takes no further action to guarantee that Cabinet responds with an integrated approach to the more pressing issue of ensuring decent homes that are well insulated and access to affordable clean energy that does not harm communities' health and well-being, especially those that that rely on burning fossil fuels indoors for spatial heating and cooking. More than 4 million homes cook without electricity. [5]

Notwithstanding government's claims of research showing reductions in air pollution using the Basa Njengo Magogo, evidence from monitoring stations are consistently showing contrary information. In the Vaal Triangle and the Highveld there are consistent and persistent levels which exceed air pollution standards especially in winter, despite the roll-out of the Basa Njengo Magogo and government's ongoing interventions on air quality in the Vaal and Highveld [6] area.

"Government's claims for reduced air pollution are nothing more than hot air", says Rico Euripidou, groundWork's Research Manager. "No one is measuring indoor air pollution in homes as people burn coal because they do not have access to affordable clean energy."

"The government has developed a political relationship with corporations rather than its people – which means corporations get cheap electricity below cost at times while people get cut off. I hope our government will listen with both their hearts and humanity intact, and that they will take seriously their responsibility to protect their citizens, and stop giving away our electricity to corporations such as BHP Billiton while people die because of lack of energy," says Caroline Ntaopane, VEJA Air Quality Campaigner.

groundWork is working with community people around South Africa to work towards energy sovereignty [7] to ensure that people have equitable and democratic access to energy. "We will continue to challenge government's environmental and climate change spin and expose them at the United Nations Convention on Climate Change's meeting in Durban in November 2011. In July and August we will measure indoor air quality in homes to supply evidence of real pollution," says Siziwe Khanyile groundWork's Climate Change and Energy Campaigner.

 

For more information:

Siziwe Khanyile, groundWork Climate Justice and Energy Campaigner - 073 830 8173

Caroline Ntaopane, VEJA Air Quality Campaigner - 073 246 0081

Rico Euripidou, groundWork Research Manager - 083 519 3008

Footnotes:

[1] groundWork is a environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Climate Justice and Energy, Air Pollution, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is a member of Friends of the Earth International.

[2] The Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) is a non-racist, non-sexist, democratic alliance of empowered civil society organisations in the Vaal triangle who have the knowledge, expertise and mandate to represent the determination of the communities of the area to control and eliminate emissions to air and water that are harmful to themselves and the environment.

[3] http://www.environment.gov.za//NewsMedia/MedStat/2011Jun7_1/2011clanfires.htm

[4] Website links to previous notices on the Clean fires Campaign:

http://www.info.gov.za/speech/DynamicAction?pageid=461&sid=10616&tid=10633
http://www.info.gov.za/speeches/2009/09062415051001.htm
http://www.environment.gov.za/HotIssues/2008/cleanFiresCamp/cleanFiresCamp.html

[5] Citizens United for Renewable Energies and Sustainability.

[6] In the Highveld in May to August 2010 - 570 times the South African ambient air pollution standards (PM10, SO2, NO2, O3 and CO) were exceeded. Significantly, the PM2.5 WHO guideline is exceeded during the four months on a consistent basis to refer to the exceedences as the norm.

[7] The concept of people's energy sovereignty is one that responds to the crises of the times. It is linked to food sovereignty defined by the Nyeleni Declaration as (adopted in February 2007 by organisations of peasants, pastoralists and artisanal fisher-folk, amongst others, from 80 countries meeting in Mali.):

… the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.