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2020 NEWS AND MEDIA RELEASES

For all media enquiries please contact Tsepang Molefe by phone on +27 33 342 5662 or +27 64 900 9963, or WhatsApp (+27 64 900 9963), or click here to send an e-mail.  Click here to access our News and Press Release ARCHIVES menu at the page bottom.

Minister Creecy upholds enforcement action against Eskom’s killer Kendal power station

Image-©-Mujahid-Safodien-Greenpeace

Photo: © Mujahid Safodien-Greenpeace.

18 May 2020 - The Environment Minister, Barbara Creecy, has rejected Eskom’s objection to and confirmed the compliance notice issued to Eskom in December 2019 by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) to Eskom in relation its troubled Kendal power station.

Minister Creecy has ordered the following, inter alia:

  • that, within 30 days of the decision, Eskom must stop operations at either unit 1 or 5 unit until DEFF agrees that its operation may commence. During this period, Eskom must carry out the required maintenance on one unit at a time to ensure compliance with its air emission licence; and
  • that within 60 days of the decision, for units 2, 3, 4, and 6, Eskom must submit a plan of action (prepared by a suitable independent expert) outlining measures and timeframes to ensure these units comply with the licence.

In her decision, the Minister states that she is “mindful of the fact that failure to take action to bring [Kendal] back into compliance … will continue to present serious environmental impacts and health threats to the affected communities.”

Read the full media release here.

CER makes a Constitutional case for local government to provide clean electricity

13 May 2020 - The City of Cape Town seeks to develop its own clean electricity capacity without requiring the national Energy Minister’s permission. Legal representatives for the City, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) and the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, with the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) as a friend of the court (amicus curiae), made their submissions before High Court Judge Leonie Windell in a virtual hearing on 11 and 12 May 2020. The hearing was not open to the public, but was recorded.

The Constitutional obligations of local government, in relation to electricity generation, are a central focus of the case.

The CER sought to assist the court in understanding the important role that local governments can and must play in protecting human health and the environment, by facilitating the transition from harmful fossil fuel-based electricity to renewable (solar and wind) electricity.  Fossil-fuel based electricity from coal currently makes up the majority of South Africa’s electricity, and contributes to 40% of the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In addition to municipalities’ obligations to provide services like affordable and accessible electricity (as the City of Cape Town argues), they have a Constitutional duty to provide clean and healthy electricity which does not result in harmful air and water pollution or worsen climate change. Municipalities should not be impeded in fulfilling those obligations.

Read the full CER media release here.

Eskom resists enforcement while new evidence on deaths caused by Kendal’s pollution emerge

Kendal Power Station

Photo: CER

29 April 2020 - Presenting shocking new expert findings on the health effects of the ongoing violations by Eskom’s Kendal Power Station to the Environment Minister, environmental justice organisations groundWork, Earthlife Africa, and the Vukani Environmental Movement have asked her to take immediate action to stop the toxic pollution from Kendal.

Kendal power station, near the N12 highway, nestled between Johannesburg and eMalahleni, is located within the Highveld Priority Area – declared as such by government in 2007 due to the high levels of air pollution and resultant dangerous health impacts.

Read the full media release here.

World Earth Day - 22 April 2020

Coronavirus Resource Center

A picture containing drawing, sign  Description automatically generated21 April 2020 - The coronavirus pandemic puts an extraordinary and unprecedented burden on health systems, organizations, and professionals. Never before have we faced a global crisis of this magnitude, one that challenges every country’s capacity to deliver health care services.

groundWork partner, Health Care Without Harm, has developed a webpage as a resource center for its partners around the world, for members of its Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network, and for the broader community engaged at the intersection of environment, climate change and health.

You can visit the HCWH resource page by clicking here, or you can download a copy of the resources here.

Pandemic Highlights Society's Historical Debt to Waste Pickers – It's Time To Make It Up To Them

20 April 2020 - groundWork partner GAIA - a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries - has drawn attention to the plight of wastepickers in the time of Covid-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the way we handle our waste, bringing with it a host of environmental, social and cultural challenges. For millions of people who make a living in the informal sector, isolation measures that guarantee their safety pose a dramatic threat to their livelihoods. People in the informal waste sector–those who do the critical yet thankless role of collecting and sorting our waste and recyclables without formal recognition and protections from their municipalities– are now facing a grave threat. 15 million informal waste workers and their families risk losing their livelihood due to Covid-19. 

You can read the full GAIA statement, learn more about the plight of wastepickers, and make a contribution to the GAIA Emergency Solidarity Fund, here.

Environment Minister orders the disclosure of big polluters' climate information, CER announces.

ArcelorMittal South Africa's Vanderbijlpark plant Image: James Oatway

ArcelorMittal South Africa's Vanderbijlpark plant Image: James Oatway

09 April 2020 - The Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has upheld the appeal lodged by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) against the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries' (DEFF) 2019 refusal to disclose key greenhouse gas (GHG) emission data and GHG emissions reduction plans for 16 heavy polluters.

In so doing, Minister Creecy has ordered DEFF to disclose GHG data of some of South Africa's highest GHG emitters, including Eskom, Sasol, ArcelorMittal, PPC, Exxaro, South32, Glencore, Seriti, SAPPI and Anglo American.

Read the full CER media release here.

The Water Crisis in a Time of the COVID-19 Crisis - Women of Somkhele and civil society groups call on government to uphold promises and to provide water, in the time of the COVID-19 threat.

08 April 2020 - The women of Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal are in a desperate and dire state without basic water supply during the COVID-19 pandemic and they, along with supporting civil society groups, are desperately calling on government to fulfil their promises to provide them with water. 

The Somkhele community has already been facing severe and often catastrophic water scarcity, created by the combined effects of coal mining activities and droughts. Now, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, these communities are facing a major crisis.

For the past week – the second of South Africa’s national lockdown – communities in the cluster of villages that make up Somkhele have had NO water. Not even the local clinic has access to water. Most households cannot afford to request water tankers, and some do not own JoJo tanks – a common method of storing water. Since the spread of COVID-19, Somkhele women are concerned that they will not be able to protect themselves and their families from the pandemic because they have no access to water.

Read the full media release here.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, government locks SA into deadly air pollution

Eskom pollution

Photo: groundWork, Megan Lewis

31st March 2020 - With South Africa under a three week coronavirus lockdown, the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has gazetted sulphur dioxide (S02) air pollution standards (called minimum emission standards, or MES) that are twice as weak as the previous standards.

Instead of Eskom, Sasol, and other facilities with coal boilers, having to meet the original SO2 standard of 500 mg/Nm3, they will now only be required to comply with MES doubly as weak (1000 mg/Nm3). The new limits apply either by tomorrow - 01 April 2020, or by the delayed dates that these companies have already been given by the National Air Quality Officer.

Research presented by the Life After Coal Campaign to the Minister and the Department has shown that 3,300 premature deaths would be caused by doubling the SO2 standard just for Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, as a result of increased risk of lower respiratory infections, increased risk of stroke, and increased risk of death from diabetes.

The weakening of the standard makes South Africa’s 2020 SO2 standard – which exists to protect people’s health and human rights – about 28 times more lax than in China, and 10 times weaker than India’s.

Read the full media release here.

Statement from groundWork on its response to the Covid19 crisis

20 March 2020 - We are very mindful of the escalation of the Coronavirus (or COVID-19) pandemic.  We need to take extraordinary measures in order to protect our staff and families, especially in consideration that our public transport and fragile healthcare system put our vulnerable communities in particular at risk.  We are working closely with our healthcare partners though our GGHH campaign to make their systems more robust and to meet the most pressing of our environmental health challenges.

As with the climate crisis, the coronavirus marks out the connections and disconnections of our profoundly unequal society.  It arrived in South Africa with middle class travellers but it will not be confined to the richer classes.  Around 60% of South Africans are poor, according to official statistics, and they carry a very high burden of disease starting with malnutrition, HIV and TB.  People's health is also compromised by high levels of pollution in the environmental sacrifice zones where our electricity is generated, our fuel is refined and minerals are mined and smelted.  And while the richer minority have access to high quality health care, poor people do not. They rely on a public health system that is weakest where the need is greatest.  Ironically, more government money goes into the private health system that serves the minority than into the public health system that has been subject to austerity budgeting for over two decades.

The coronavirus has disrupted profoundly interconnected and fragile global systems. However, this gives us an opportunity to make our world more equitable and to test our just transition to a society with decent jobs for all, universal healthcare, and energy systems that benefit people and the biosphere.  We have to change systems that place profit over health and wellbeing.  We have to recognize and address the political, social and economic factors that govern how health or illnesses moves through our communities.  For example, many people living in informal settlements have no access to running water, making frequent hand washing very difficult, and crowded living conditions make social distancing almost impossible.

Read the full statement here.

CER admitted as amicus curiae in appeal of troubling judgement against mining-affected community

Supreme Court of Appeal building. Photo: CER.

Supreme Court of Appeal building. Photo: CER.

19 MARCH 2020 - On 13 February 2020 the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) admitted the Centre for Environmental Rights as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in an appeal by the Global Environment Trust and Others against a 2018 judgement of the Pietermaritzburg High Court. In that judgment now under appeal, the court had refused to grant an interdict application brought by the Applicants against Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd and had ordered public interest litigants to pay the legal costs of the coal mining company. 

The CER intervened in the matter because of its concerns that the judgment opened the door for mining companies to operate illegally. The CER is also concerned that the negative costs order against public interest litigants would discourage communities from approaching the courts to defend their constitutional rights through the fear of being debilitated by having to pay the legal costs of industry and the State

Read the full media release here.

SAWPA MEDIA STATEMENT

The South African Waste Pickers Association is calling all waste pickers, those gathering recyclable materials within the waste stream - on landfills, streets, illegal dump-sites and in communities to take care of their health in this difficult time.

It is a fact that once all the items associated with the Covid-19 – sanitiser containers, toilet papers, masks, etc. - have been used, waste pickers are the ones who will be at the receiving end to sort and separate from other waste products.

SAWPA calls upon our governments (all spheres), private sector, civil society organizations to assist, support, fund and work holistically with waste pickers during this time and make it easier for waste pickers to have access to sanitizers.

SAWPA calls upon our local governments to build material recovery facilities in every municipality, run and operated by waste pickers. It also calls upon the citizens of this country to unite in managing their waste from the source and start embracing the concept of Zero Waste.

Read the full media release here.

groundWork’s 2020 environmental justice school kicks off

15th March 2020 - Activists from several community based environmental justice organisations are gathering at Valley Trust near Durban for three weeks. From the 15th March to the 4th April.

This is groundWork’s sixth Environmental Justice School which is drawing twenty two  activists from as far afield as Sekukuneland, the Karoo, the Highveld Mpumalanga, south Durban among other spaces.  In the past 5 years that the school has been running, 96 students from 7 countries have participated.

Read the full media release here.

Ode to Joy

13 March 2020 - In the early hours of Wednesday, 11th March, Joy Kistnasamy, groundWork's chairperson and friend to all, passed away peacefully in her sleep.  Joy, as her name pronounced, was a happy person. Even in times of stress and pain, she was always upbeat, exuding a positivity that was infectious.

In groundWork, Joy was a staunch supporter of our environmental justice mission, and also a friend and confidant to us.  She was our chairperson for the past decade and she has been with us during a period of growth, a period we never thought possible when we started groundWork in 1999. 

Joy was always keen to draw groundWork staff into her work, from our annual trek to DUT to deliver our environmental justice and health lecture, to attempting to introduce Zero Waste into DUT and bringing our environmental health work into the faculty.  She was always trying to cook up something.  She was adamant that students had critical thought and needed to experience environmentalism through the lens of environmental justice, through the work of the Alliance and groundWork.

Read the full eulogy for Joy Kistnasamy by groundWork Director Bobby Peek here.

Standard Bank’s coal policy fails to provide meaningful leadership on the climate crisis

12 March 2020 - Following a resolution tabled by its own shareholders in May 2019, Standard Bank last week released a policy on funding of thermal coal mining.  This was an opportunity for Standard Bank to demonstrate its commitment and contribution to combatting climate change and enabling a just transition to a low-carbon economy.

Standard Bank has missed that opportunity by publishing a policy that is weak and inadequate: it makes no commitment to ending funding for coal mining. Its policy contradicts its claimed vision “to be the leading financial services organisation in, for and across Africa”.

Any meaningful effort from financial services corporations to address the severe risks posed by climate change to South Africa and the global economy, must cease lending to both coal-fired power projects and coal mining.  Standard Bank’s respective policies on financing thermal coal mining and coal-fired power both demonstrate a lack of leadership on efforts to address the climate crisis. 

Read the full media release here.

Department of Mineral Resources and Energy a no-show

12 March 2020 - Communities from Witbank, Phola, Middleburg, Wonderfontein, Ermelo, and Springs are protesting at the DMRE (Department of Mineral Resources, and Energy) regional office in Witbank. This comes after the department failed to show up for a public meeting organized by the department. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the amendment of the MPRDA (Minerals Petroleum Resources Development Act) and draft guidelines on resettlement.

The communities are demanding that DMRE treats them with respect in dealing with issues facing fence-line communities. They are also demanding to be reimbursed for the resources wasted travelling to Witbank. Reports from the ground indicate that the protesting communities are now inside the DMRE offices in Witbank.

Contact details regarding this story are available here.

Fair, Meaningful and Sustainable Change - A Just Transition Report

05 March 2020 - groundWork, Friends of Earth South Africa together with its Life After Coal partners the Centre for Environmental Rights and EarthLife Africa JHB launch their 2019 report titled Down to Zero: The politics of just transition.

A just transition has become a central talking point from the United Nations to the streets of Mpumalanga, where coal defines life. The Down to Zero report is documents the situation as it stands and calls for system change.

The report highlights the detrimental effects of capitalism’s obsession with fossil fuel. A just transition means a break with, and within, the present order by creating a shared vision of a different future. The report speaks to the urgent need to respond to climate change, create a truly democratic and participatory order, and share our work and the wealth of the land.

Read the full media release here.

Another nail in the coffin for doomed Khanyisa private coal plant project

18 February 2020 - The expiry of one of its key operational licences is the latest major setback for developer ACWA Power’s proposed Khanyisa coal-fired power station in the Mpumalanga Highveld.

This private coal power project, like the other projects conceived as part of the now outdated 2014 Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (“the Coal IPP Programme”), has been plagued by obstacles over the past few years. These include the withdrawal of funding by a number of commercial banks under pressure to stop funding coal power, and a barrage of legal challenges by civil society organisations of the multiple authorisations required for these projects.

In one of these legal challenges, environmental justice group groundWork, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, has challenged Khanyisa’s environmental authorisation in the Pretoria High Court. groundWork is asking the court to set aside the then Minister of Environmental Affairs’ decision to issue ACWA with an environmental authorisation without conducting a legally-required climate change impact assessment.

Read the full media release here.

SONA 2020: Progress on clean energy, but still talk of dirty coal

14 February 2020 - The Life After Coal campaign welcomes a number of announcements made by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the State of the Nation Address last night on lifting barriers to new generation of clean, more affordable electricity from renewable energy.

We also welcome the acknowledgement of the existential threat of climate change, and the President’s commitment not to leave behind any African child in the transition to a “low-carbon, climate resilient and sustainable society”.

We welcome the announcement that municipalities in good standing will be allowed to procure electricity from renewable energy. However, we see no commitments to local, social and community-owned renewable energy generation. We call for concrete plans to support such local capacity for “people’s power”– essential for a just transition.

We are dismayed at the President’s reference to any new generation from coal. Here are all the reasons why coal is too expensive, kills people and destroys the environment - Environmental justice organisations condemn SA’s plans for more coal generated electricity

We are also disappointed that no mention was made in the President’s address of the toxic air pollution by the ongoing and flagrant violations of Eskom’s dirty coal plants with air pollution laws, which kills and impairs the health of thousands every year, including children. These are ongoing violations of people’s Constitutional rights which require an urgent response. Read more about the court case brought against government here - Environmental groups take government to High Court over violation of Constitutional right to clean air.

Contacts:

Lerato Letebele Balendran lbalendran@cer.org.za or
Tsepang Molefe, media@groundwork.org.za - 074 405 1257

NGOs challenge Eskom's latest application to escape compliance with air pollution laws

September 23, 2016. Kriel Power Station. Coal mining and power stations in Mpumalanga. Picture: JAMES OATWAY

7 FEBRUARY 2020 - Eskom has for a 5th time applied to escape compliance with South Africa's air pollution laws.

The Life After Coal campaign, consisting of groundWorkEarthlife Africa and the Centre for Environmental Rights, has filed comprehensive submissions opposing Eskom's latest application to delay or completely avoid meeting the April 2020 pollution limits for its coal power plants.

Despite being the biggest polluter in South Africa and already receiving widespread postponements of compliance deadlines, Eskom is still attempting to delay or completely avoid meeting the April 2020 pollution limits in the Minimum Emission Standards (MES) for 14 of its 15 dirty and deadly coal-fired power stations. Eskom's various applications across its fleet of power stations blatantly undermine the MES, which exist to protect people's health and wellbeing, social and economic development, and the environment.

Read the full media release here.

Africa Energy Leaders Summit

07 February 2020 - From 28th to 29th January 2020, groundWork attended the MELCA-Ethiopia, Oil Change International, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Oxfam, and Power Shift Africa convening of the Africa Energy Leaders Summit at the Ambassador Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. At the Summit, civil society leaders – representing twenty-seven organizations, networks and community resistance groups from Africa and around the world – deliberated on issues including fossil fuels dependence, climate change, energy access and the just transition.

This is a call to interested organizations, networks, and community resistance groups to please visit the Communiqué of the 2020 Africa Energy Leaders Summit here, where you can download the Communiqué and add your endorsement of the document.

Tshwane waste pickers gearing up to work with the City.

29 January 2020 - The South African Waste Pickers Association is hosting the Tshwane waste pickers mass meeting at the Atteridgeville Community Hall (corner Ramakgopa and Hlahla Streets, Atteridgeville, Pretoria). The main purpose of the meeting is to report back to the waste pickers about negotiations that started in June 2019 between the council and the waste pickers of the City of Tshwane. The organisation will also utilise the gathering as part of their national roadshow to register and officially document all the waste pickers who are interested to join the movement. A 2020 strategy will also be developed on what needs to be done to strengthen the waste pickers organisation in Tshwane. 

Read the full news item here.

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