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Proposed new air quality rules will force Eskom to comply with pollution standards, or shut down

26 June 2018 - Most of Eskom’s ageing coal power stations cause severe air pollution, which contribute to the deaths and ill-health of thousands of South Africans every year.

Despite this, Eskom has thus far been let off the hook by government – not only allowing them to postpone their compliance with air pollution standards, but failing to take enforcement action against Eskom for its pollution.

Now, the Department of Environmental Affairs has finally proposed closing some of these loopholes. Proposed amendments to law published under the Air Quality Act will only permit one postponement of compliance – for five years – with standards which should be met by April 2020 (called “new plant” standards).

Read the full media release here.

Wellington Community Defeats Waste Incinerator in South Africa

07 June 2018 - Communities of Wellington, in the Western Cape of South Africa, have successfully pushed against the Drakenstein Municipalities plans to build a Municipal Waste Incinerator. The Wellington Association against the Incinerator (WAAI) and the Drakenstein Environmental Watch (DEW), both community based organisations, worked tirelessly,  along with another GAIA member – groundWork, to campaign, resist and legally challenge the proposed incinerator. The Drakenstein Municipality recognized in their official statement “complaints and resistance by certain interest groups – especially against the proposed inclusion of an incinerator component – as well as legal processes” as part of their decision to terminate the proposed project.

groundWork has been working with community groups in Wellington in this struggle over the past few years. Musa Chamane, one of the Waste Campaigners of the organisation, explained that this victory “highlights the importance of community organizing when fighting for environmental justice” and added that “challenging these projects from different angles is crucial to stop these kind of proposals”.

Keith Roman of WAAI said that their “strategy was to intervene using the legal route to highlight the administrative flaws of the process conducted by the Drakenstein Municipality”. Caron Potocnik of DEW identified the human rights violations related to this project as their main concern “the municipality has to consider the impacts on the people of Wellington” Potocnik affirmed. Going forward both WAAI and DEW are optimistic about the town’s potential “it is great that the incinerator plans have been terminated but now we need to think of how we use sustainable methods of dealing with waste and make Wellington a model zero waste town” both organizations agreed. 

This item originally appeared on the GAIA website.

Minister's statement flies in the face of latest 'no new coal' report

04 June 2018 - The Minister of Energy on Friday reiterated government's intention to proceed with the procurement of expensive, dirty electricity from two independent coal power plants – despite compelling evidence about the disastrous impacts these plants would have for South Africa.

Earlier this week, the Energy Research Centre (ERC) released a report proving that the two new coal plants, Thabametsi and Khanyisa, would cost South Africa an additional R20 billion, and increase greenhouse gas emissions by so much that they would negate government's key plans to mitigate climate change. Credible modelling shows that, given the large surplus generation capacity, the coal IPPs are unnecessary to meet demand, and ensure security of electricity supply.

Moreover, both plants would have significant impacts on air quality and health in areas that are already heavily polluted, and would use enormous amounts of precious water resources. It is for these reasons that the Life After Coal Campaign has challenged – and will continue to challenge – all authorisations for these plants, including in High Court proceedings still underway.

Read the full media release here.

Mining Charter Consultation Returns to KwaZulu-Natal

31 May 2018 - Today Minister Gwede Mantashe returns to Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) to discuss the Mining Charter with local community people, NGOs and industry.  The meeting was to be on the 22 May 2018, but was cancelled on the morning after more than 70 community people travelled from afar as Mtubatuba, Somkhele and Fuleni. 

Post the meeting the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) responded and apologised for the late postponement and offered to pay for people's transport to the meeting today.  This is welcomed by the communities and groundWork. It is critical that government ensures people are supported to participate in meetings that will define their future.

The community will hold a picket outside the meeting and will hand over a memorandum demanding the right to say no to mining.

For contact details to obtain more information, click here.

To read the memorandum handed over to Minister Mantashe click here.

New proceedings launched to protect Mpumalanga strategic water source area from coal mining

31 May 2018 - Last week, the coalition of eight community and civil society organisations, that is resisting Atha-Africa Ventures’ proposed coal mine inside a Protected Area and Strategic Water Source Area in Mpumalanga, launched new legal proceedings in the Mbombela High Court.

The new proceedings are a judicial review application to set aside the decision of the Mpumalanga Department of Environmental Affairs to grant an environmental authorisation to Atha for its proposed Yzermyn underground coal mine, and the decision of the Mpumalanga MEC to dismiss the coalition’s appeal of that environmental authorisation. The review application is coupled with an interdict preventing the start of any activities at the proposed mining site pending the outcome of the review.

Read the full media release here.

New report shows that two coal IPPs would cost SA an additional R20 billion

The new coal IPPs will be excessively expensive and polluting, and crowd out other cheaper, cleaner, and more flexible alternatives. Image: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

30 May 2018 -A report released today by the University of Cape Town’s Energy Research Centre (ERC) shows that government’s planned independent power producer (IPP) coal plants – Thabametsi and Khanyisa – would cost South Africa an additional R19.68 billion compared to a least-cost energy system.

Thabametsi (557 MW to be based near Lephalale, Limpopo) and Khanyisa (306 MW to be based near eMalahleni, Mpumalanga) are the preferred bidders under the first bid window of the coal-baseload IPP procurement programme.

The new report shows that the two coal IPPs are not needed to meet South Africa’s medium-term electricity demand. Where future capacity is needed, this is met more cheaply by other electricity sources such as wind, solar, and flexible gas generation.

Read the full media release here.

Minister of Mineral Resources fails to honour his commitment

22 May 2018 - The Minister of Mineral Resources, Mr Gwede Mantashe failed to honour his commitment to visit the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province today to discuss the Mining Charter.  Community people gathered from Newcastle area (Normandien, Kliprand Farm and Uitkomst communities) and Somkhele, where Petmin’s coal mine is being challenged by local community people.  More than 70 people travelled to attend the meeting to speak with the Minister about the impacts of coal mining and dangers of proposed fracking in the province.  

“This shows the lack of respect government has for meaningful participation.  It is not easy for people to make these meetings.  For these meetings to be cancelled without notice is an injustice” says Robby Mokgalaka, groundWork’s Coal Campaigner.

Read the full media release here.

An irrational IRP can expect legal challenge from human rights organisations

17 May 2018 - The Life After Coal (LAC) Campaign and Greenpeace Africa say that the Department of Energy (DoE) will face a legal challenge from them if the Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity (IRP) ignores constitutional obligations.

“We are not afraid to take the Department of Energy to court if the updated IRP ignores the provisions made in the Constitution. We were successful in halting the nuclear deal and we will fight again if necessary,” says Earthlife Africa Director, Makoma Lekalakala. A legal challenge would be a severe blow to a department that has seen four ministers in under a year, and could face another reshuffle before the 2019 elections.

Read the full media release here.

Waste Pickers Left for Dead at New England Landfill Site

A 2015 waste picker protest, where waste pickers were challenging the delays in the building of the Materials Recovery Facility. They also challenged the dangerous work conditions.

11 May 2018 - Panic and chaos struck the New England Landfill site on Saturday, 5 May 2018, when waste pickers discovered the body of an unknown man they believed to have been dead. While trying to contact police, they realized that the man was still alive; they immediately tried to contact the ambulance instead. Several calls and pleas for help were made between 06:00 and 12:00 midday, the ambulance still had not arrived and the police had made no effort to come to the scene to assist.

Read the full media release here.

Green Scorpions Investigate Richards Bay Minerals for Allegedly Dumping Toxic Waste in Community.

Slimes dam

Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) Slimes dam polluting the environment: Photo groundWork

11 May 2018 - Green Scorpions has decided to investigate Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) for environmental violations; this is after groundWork filed a complaint against them on behalf of the KwaMbonambi community. The KwaMbonambi, Sokhulu and Enhlanzini communities, affected by waste dumping, are concerned that the waste is causing increased rates of cancer and destruction to their community and environment. These concerns were raised during ongoing research and community monitoring done by Kwazulu Regional Christian Council. Some of the other complaints include the dumping area not being adequately fenced off, people have lost their livestock, which are routinely trapped in the dumping area, and worry about their children being the next victims to this environmental injustice.

Read the full media release here.

Farid Esack, groundWork Trust Board Member awarded the Order of Luthuli for his fight against race, gender, class, and religious oppression.

28 April 2018 - Professor Farid Esack, groundWork Trust Board Member, has received the Order of Luthuli from President Ramaphosa for his fight against race, gender, class and religious oppression. 

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, warmly welcomed the announcement of the award to Professor Esack, for "his brilliant contribution to academic research and to the fight against race, gender, class and religious oppression." "His body of work'' says the citation ''continues to enlighten generations of fledgling and established academics.”

Joy Kistnasamy, Chair of the groundWork Trust Board expressed her congratulations to Professor Esack on "an amazing and well deserved accolade. groundWork and its trustees are proud of you and this great achievement."

You can read more about the award here.

Community participation in KZN Mining Indaba restricted

18 April 2018 - The KwaZulu Natal Mining Indaba is taking place on Wednesday and Thursday, 18 - 19 April, 2018. The Department of Mineral Resource is convening the KZN Mining Indaba in Newcastle, a town devastated and impoverished because of historical coal mining. The meeting restricted community participation to only 3 participants, meaning the truth of mining in the area will not be meaningfully discussed. With unemployment close to 40% in South Africa we cannot rely on an apartheid economic model of mining that has caused ill health, violence and destroyed people’s environments. 

The meeting will be attended by the Minister of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe; KZN MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Sihle Zikala; Mayor of Amajuba District Municipality, Councillor Dr Musa Ngubane; KZN Premier, Mr. Willies Mchunu, mining companies and a limited affected communities.

Ironically, the meeting is being hosted in areas where there were recent forced removals to make way for mining. The Kliprand community in Danhauser, Newcastle, had their homes demolished at the end of March 2018, to make way for Ikwezi Coal Mine operations. The Kliprand community has been involved in a long legal battle over land with Ikwezi Coal Mine, their forced removal was unlawful and was done before the case had been concluded. Communities were placed in temporary iron structures after the homes they had for over 50 years were destroyed.

Read the full media release here.

Battle against the climate-destroying coal IPPs escalates

Environmental activists demonstrate outside the court during the hearing of the first Thabametsi coal-fired power station court case in March 2017

Image: James Oatway for CER

03 APRIL 2018 -In the past week, the Life After Coal Campaign (which comprises: the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), Earthlife Africa, and groundWork) has instituted fresh court proceedings against the Minister of Environmental Affairs in relation to the proposed Thabametsi independent power producer (IPP) coal-fired power station. The Campaign has also made further written and oral objections against both preferred bidders under the Coal Baseload IPP Procurement Programme (being Thabametsi, as well as the proposed Khanyisa coal-fired power station) to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) – during public hearings hosted by NERSA on 27 March 2018.

groundWork and Earthlife Africa have sought an order setting aside the Minister’s decision and referring Thabametsi’s authorisation application back to the Department of Environmental Affairs for reconsideration. They have also asked for an order confirming that the National Environmental Management Act and the Constitution require competent authorities to consider site-specific climate change impacts associated with proposed projects; and that they do not permit competent authorities to rely blindly on the IRP 2010 and other policies or Ministerial determinations as determinative of their decision.

Read the full media release here.

In Memory of Comrade DORCAS DUMSILE MWELASE (25 February 1966   -  25 February 2018)

03 April 2018 -Dorcas Dumsile Mwelase, was a dedicated, humble, loyal, selfless, friend, mother, sister and comrade. Her activism led her to become a member of the Mpukunyoni Community Property Association (MCPA), which challenges negative mining impacts created by Somkhele Coal Mine.

A hard-working cadre, she did everything in her power to succeed in whatever she was doing and also strived to put the needs of the community and association first. She fought against injustice and mobilizer community members so that they could empower themselves.

Read the full tribute here.

Life After Coal sets record straight on inaccurate statements by Colenso Power

20 March 2018 - The Life After Coal Campaign (which comprises the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, and groundWork) has issued a media release to correct numerous factual inaccuracies in statements attributed to the CEO of Colenso Power (Pty) Ltd – the developer of the proposed Colenso 1050MW independent power producer (IPP) coal-fired power station,  to be based in KwaZulu-Natal.

The statements appeared in an Engineering News article of 16 March 2018 and are disputed by the Life After Coal campaign.

For details see the full media release here.

Civil society organisations take battle against new coal plants to NERSA

19 March 2018 - On 27 March 2018, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) will hold public hearings for the generation licence applications by the two preferred bidders under the first bid window of the Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer (IPP) Procurement Programme – Thabametsi and Khanyisa. Thabametsi coal power plant would be based in Limpopo, and Khanyisa coal power plant would be based in Mpumalanga.

The Life After Coal Campaign (which comprises the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (“Earthlife”) and groundWork) has opposed Thabametsi and Khanyisa’s applications, and will be presenting their objections, alongside numerous other experts and community representatives opposed to the proposed coal power stations, to NERSA next Tuesday 27 March.

The Life After Coal campaign is challenging these new coal plants on the grounds that they would be harmful to the environment and human health, and are risky projects that would produce expensive electricity that South Africa does not need. Despite this, on 8 March 2018, Minister of Energy Jeff Radebe that he had requested the office of the Director-General of the Department of Energy and the Independent Power Producer (IPP) Office to sign the two coal baseload IPP projects.

Members of the public are invited to attend the NERSA hearings and/or make presentations.  The deadline for registration is 20 March 2018.

Read the full media release here.

Another Waste Picker Dies on the Pietermaritzburg Waste Dumpsite

15 March 2018 - In the early hours of the day Ntsiki Mhlakwane was killed by a municipal waste compactor which crushed her. She is the fifth person to have been killed or badly injured on the landfill site since 2007. Such incidents  where waste pickers have been killed or badly injured by the heavy machinery operating at the landfill is a sad reminder of how waste pickers have been neglected by our government.

groundWork and the South African Waste Pickers Association (SAWPA), representing more than 1000 waste picker’s country wide, have been telling Msunduzi Local Municipality about the danger to which waste pickers are exposed.

In 2010 funding was approved at the The uMgungundlovu District Municipality for a Materials Recovery Facility ( MRF – also known as a recycling centre) but that was never built due to political clashes between the district and local municipality. Lives would have been saved by an MRF due to safer working conditions. The best way of managing waste is to have an MRF where waste pickers would work to recover and sort recyclable materials, rather than work on the dumpsite where waste is being dumped.

groundWork and SAWPA are saddened that waste pickers must die in this way. They have never resorted to crime but instead they have opted for recycling as a means to earn an honest meagre living. Waste pickers and groundWork have scheduled an urgent meeting with the Msunduzi Municipality on Monday 19th March where amongst other things, incidents such as this will be discussed and a solution that will be much safer than the current situation will be sought.

Despite severe health impacts, Eskom again seeks to delay compliance with air pollution standards

15 March 2018 - Eskom has again applied to postpone compliance with the minimum emission standards for air pollution, this time for its Tutuka power station near Standerton. This area falls within the already heavily polluted Highveld Priority Area in Mpumalanga.

The minimum emission standards (MES) regulate the maximum amount of air pollution released by industries, to limit harmful impacts on human health, wellbeing, and the environment. They were first published in 2010 following a 5 year multi-stakeholder process, and require existing industries (including all of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations) to comply with a set of MES by 1 April 2015, and a stricter set by 1 April 2020.

In early 2015, despite vehement objections from civil society and community organisationsEskom was granted widespread postponements of deadlines to meet the MES. Multiple additional postponement applications for the majority of their power stations are expected later this year.

Read the full media release here.

The transition to a low carbon future must be rapid, and must be for everyone

14 March 2018 - In response to the interdict sought to stop yesterday’s signature of the Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for 27 renewable independent power producer procurement programme (REIPPPP) projects, the Life After Coal Campaign emphasises the urgent need for a rapid, but just transition from coal to a low carbon future.

Workers in power stations and coal mines are understandably concerned about what such a transition means for their employment future. Coal workers must have a place in the renewable economy. At the same time, in the context of 40% unemployment and gross inequality in South Africa, a just transition must be about creating a more equal society in which everyone has a place. This is not only the responsibility of government: workers and community groups, particularly those who are affected by the coal economy, should be at the centre of the process.

The transformation of the South African national power system has reached a critical moment. Climate change impacts are very evident in the recent country-wide drought, which is ongoing in the Western and Eastern Cape. Impacts will intensify over the next decades. As it is, air pollution from the coal-fired power stations results in early death of thousands of people and in poor health for hundreds of thousands each year.

The REIPPPP has contributed towards our national climate change response and our international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Approximately 11.2 Mton of CO2 (carbon dioxide) equivalent emissions have been avoided since the inception of REIPPPP.

Read the full media release here.

#ThumaMina: Heed the call, say no to coal DBSA.

08 March 2018 - The #ThumaMina, DBSA campaign asks the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) to publicly commit to not funding the Thabametsi coal-fired power plant, proposed to be built in Lephalale, Limpopo. Thabametsi is one of 12 coal-fired plants considered under the Independent Power Producers Programme in South Africa. The coal plant will use outdated technology and is set to be extremely emissions intensive, leaving untold impacts on human health, water availability, and agricultural productivity in an age when a new coal plant is a climate crime.

The impacts of climate change are being felt in South Africa today more than ever, and developing another power plant in a water-stressed region stands to threaten communities living in Lephalale. In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, no new coal infrastructure should be built.

While we welcome the Development Bank's investments in renewable energy initiatives, these positive steps risk being undermined by support for coal infrastructure. Instead, DBSA can play a bigger role in scaling up action on climate change and delivering on the ambitions that South Africa committed to during the global climate talks held in Paris in 2015.

The Life After Coal campaign has made great strides towards stopping Thabametsi and other coal-fired power station projects from going ahead, and we are joining this struggle, focusing on the institutions financing Thabametsi.

350.org is calling on the DBSA to commit to not financing Thabametsi coal-fired power plant. It is an opportunity for them to stand out and be a leader amongst financiers in South Africa, and not waiver from fulfilling their development aims of improving affordable energy access for all South Africans.

Click here to sign the 350.org petition.

EJS 2018 Clean Air Action

07 March 2018 - As the groundWork Environmental Justice school draws to an end, the participants have a strong message for all governments, corporations and citizens - "We want clean air and we want it now!!!"

South Africa's energy future at stake: Life After Coal campaign writes to new Energy Minister Jeff Radebe

28 February 2018 - The Life After Coal Campaign (made up of groundWork, the Centre for Environmental Rights and Earthlife Africa, Johannesburg) has written to newly appointed Energy Minister Jeff Hadebe.

"The Life After Coal Campaign writes to congratulate you on your appointment as Minister of Energy. We believe that the Energy Ministry is of critical importance in determining future energy security for all the people in our country, and supporting the just transition to a low-carbon future; specifically how South Africa meets the need to provide clean, healthy and affordable energy to the poor, while ensuring that South Africa reduces its greenhouse gas emissions. We believe these two objectives are complementary and we look forward to a robust engagement with you on these and other issues."

Read the full communication to Minister Hadebe here.

Air Quality in the Highveld Remains Poor

19 February 2018 - The inability of government to enforce minimum emissions standards in the Highveld Priority Area (HPA) means that air quality remains poor and has an adverse impact on the health and well being of the people living in the area.

"The situation in the Highveld is not getting any better, pollution levels are high" said environmental activist Thomas Mnguni from groundWork in Middelburg.

Read the full press item here.

Call for more research into oil, gas exploration plan

09 February 2018 - Non-governmental organisations have slammed proposed oil and gas exploration off the coasts of Durban and Richards Bay.

This comes as Environmental Resources Management (ERM) and Italian oil and gas exploration company Eni South Africa BV (Eni) held a public hearing into exploration on Wednesday. This was one of a series of public hearings being held.

Environmental activist Desmond D'Sa, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said the drilling would have a negative impact on fish.

Read the full Daily News story here.

International Coal Exchange Statement

31 January 2018 - groundWork has always believed that community people learn best from sharing their struggles with each other.  The 2018 International Coal Exchange took between 29 and 31 January 2018. It aimed to enable shared learning and a broader understanding of coal, energy poverty and the making of environmental injustice.

groundWork believes that exchanges build a connections and unity between groups with similar concerns. It is one of the ways in which groundWork supports community-based organizations to build solidarity and links with each other, and to build a shared response to the common environmental injustices people face on the ground.

You can read the statement that emerged from the International statement here.

How did we get to be eating plastic?

10 January 2018 - At our recent Africa-wide #BreakFreeFromPlastic gathering we heard from some local scientists who painted a bleak picture of plastics in the Indian Ocean and in particular about how plastics are bio-accumulating in our local food web. The food web is the entirety of interrelated food chains in an ecological community, so this includes the food that we eat! Worryingly, micro plastics are now a ubiquitous pollutant in all the oceans around the world, and pose a serious potential threat to marine ecology. In particular, the facts following were presented, which I thought merited further research to inform our work.

Steve Cohen from the Durban Partnership against Plastic Pollution described a "plastic ocean" around Durban in which 70% of the Mullet fish species surveyed in Durban contained micro-plastics, most worryingly in their brains (UKZN Mace Lab). We also heard that 77% of Maasbankerfish species (mainly horse mackerel) sampled from the Durban Harbour, Vetch's Pier, Isipingo and the uMngeni and Mdloti river mouths contained tiny plastic fibres, fragments and beads in their tissues and organs. The team that undertook this research also found that these fish contained micro plastic fibres, irrespective of their size, at Vetch's Pier and also in Durban (UKZN School of Life Sciences).

Read the full article, by groundWork staff member Rico Euripidou, in the December 2017 Newsletter here.

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