Highveld Environmental Justice Network
Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance

DEATH SENTENCE FOR PEOPLE OF THE HIGHVELD AND VAAL

eMalahleni, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa, 25 February 2015 – The decision taken yesterday by the Department of Environmental Affairs to grant Eskom permission to postpone complying with the minimum emission standards (MES) is a clear disregard for the people of the already heavily polluted areas of the Highveld and Vaal. Their right to environmental health and well-being as provided for in the Constitution has been ignored, despite South Africa being a democracy for the people.

According to Nomcebo Makhubelo, Coordinator of the Highveld Environmental Justice Network (HEJN) [1]:

“We have been opposed to the applications because they meant that industries – in particular Eskom – are ultimately seeking permission to continue destroying the health and lives of ordinary people in the Highveld. It should also be noted that the area is an Air Quality Priority Area [2], and specific interventions were supposed to bring ambient air quality into compliance with ambient air quality standards. The postponements are a direct contradiction of this goal.”

The conditions provided for within the granting of postponements, namely "offsetting", is not clear and cannot under any normal circumstances be used as an excuse for non-compliance.

The Vaal Triangle was the first to be declared an Air Quality Priority Area by the DEA and continues to be plagued by some of the biggest polluters who often do not comply with the existing emission standards in their air emission licences. Samson Mokoena, Coordinator at the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) [2], highlights the disappointment they feel at the DEA failing to protect them:

“Lethabo power station is one of the biggest polluters in the Vaal Triangle, and these postponements mean that that status will remain. Not only has Eskom been granted postponements, but so has the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the country, Sasol. The people of the Vaal will continue to suffer from dirty air.”

Firstly, the country is experiencing an energy crisis and Eskom is saying it cannot comply with the MES due to financial constraints. However, this is no reason for the government to allow it to pollute further. Instead, HEJN and VEJA would expect the government to indicate how quickly they will invest in renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, to address the electricity crisis in the country.

Secondly, as the DEA is supposed to protect the people, it needs to ensure that all industries comply with the standards and that relevant penalties are imposed for non-compliance. Therefore, the two organisations will consider taking court action in order to ensure human rights are given priority over profits.

FOOTNOTES
[1] The Highveld Environmental Justice Network (HEJN) is a voluntary association that joins together various non-governmental movements and organisations within the Highveld Air Priority Area fighting for people’s right to a clean and healthy environment, in an area that is well-known for its high levels of pollution as a result of the coal and other industries.

[2] The Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) is a voluntary association of non-governmental and community-based organisations that advocates for a healthy environment and sustainable development in “the Vaal Triangle”, an area of heavy industry and mining in the south of Gauteng.

CONTACTS

Highveld Environmental Justice Network:
Nomcebo Makhubelo
Coordinator
Tel (M): 072 120 1626

Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance:
Samson Mokoena
Coordinator
Tel (M): 084 291 8510