On this page you will find a collection of opinion pieces. Opinion pieces provide detailed viewpoints written by groundWork staff and researchers. Most of these items will also appear in the press, both print and online.
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A century of catastrophe: Eskom coal plants contaminate the atmosphere... and the wrecking train steams ahead - DAVID HALLOWES
30 September 2019 - ESKOM has been a slow-moving catastrophe for nearly a century. Or rather, it was the heart of the minerals energy complex MEC which devastated the people across half a continent. The men came in on those trains from Namibia and Malawi, from Zambia and Zimbabwe, from Angola and Mozambique, from Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland, from the locations, reserves and Bantustans of the Union, the Republiek and even still the Republic. Conscripted to dig deep down in the earth, conscripted into the stinking hostels, taken from their families, from their fields and herds, they cursed the coal train that brought them to the city of gold. And worse for the place of coal. Give it a last blast for Masekela.
The trains and the hostels are gone mostly. Now they come by rattling taxi and shack down under tin with the heat beating in. A room of their own maybe two square metres, scarcely enough for a bed and a chair. Just half a metre to the next shack and the air full of coal dust and desperation. In a ruined land, they have the hope of risking life for a pittance. The furnaces burn bright across the coal fields. Sour acid smoke blasts from the stacks and settles over the land. In the neighbourhood, people gag on bad air and more die than the Republic would have you count. And the wrecking train comes on.
Faster now and faster. Eskom piled debt on debt to build Medupi and Kusile to reproduce the minerals energy economy that ruined the land and wasted the people. Now it is razing even that economy, a heavy coal train running at express speed at the end of the line. And the end of the line is in the decorous halls of the Republic's Treasury.
It is 20 years since the 1999 White Paper on Energy promised cheap power for ever and the privatisation of power stations. It is 15 years since the penny dropped: no one would buy a power station to produce cheap power at a loss. Government then declared itself a developmental state and declared Eskom a source of strategic investment. It is 14 years since Eskom contracted Hitachi to build boilers to profit Chancellor House and the ruling party the once upon a time party of emancipation.
Toxic waste tragedy still hanging over us - One of the biggest environmental injustices in SA has yet to be resolved - Bobby Peek
16 September 2019 - Friday I was in Cato Ridge, at the site of the skeletal remains of two burnt out warehouses which had stored the imported toxic waste of Thor Chemicals for the past three decades. Like the burnt warehouses past promises went up in flames. It was an in your face reminder that democracy has failed many. Especially people like Timto Summerto and Enoch Nkosi, both of whom are still waiting to see justice done.
Summerton and Nkosi, together with groundWork staffers, were meeting the Department of Environmental Affairs to get feedback on the fire. Nkosi clutched on to an original, but faded copy of Wasted Lives, which documented the history of Thor importation of toxic mercury waste from the UK, US, Italy, Brazil and Indonesia. For Summerton, it was the first time he was back at Thor Chemicals since being banned from the premises after giving evidence against Thor Chemicals at the Davis Commission of Inquiry, set up by then president Nelson Mandela in 1995 to investigate the importation of thousands of tons of toxic mercury waste into South Africa.
The mismanagement of this led to the pollution of neighbouring communities in Fredville, the Inanda Dam Durban's water source and the deaths of four workers, and injury of several others from exposure to the waste containing mercury and the incineration thereof. The commission found that the company operated with a "disturbingly careless attitude" toward people and the environment by importing toxic waste in the 1980s and early 1990s which they could not manage or, as some allege, never intended to manage in an environmentally sound manner in the first place.