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groundWork is a non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organization working primarily in Southern Africa in the areas of Climate & Energy Justice, Coal, Environmental Health, Global Green and Healthy Hospitals, and Waste. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International.


Global Day of Action: A Call for Leaders to Go Beyond Recovery to a Zero Waste Future

Zero Waste Proven Strategy for COVID-19 Economic Recovery: Mitigating Climate Change, Creating Good Jobs, and Revitalizing Local Economies

31 March 2021- Environmental Justice groups around the world are joining a Global Day of Action to demand that our leaders go beyond recovery, to a future where zero waste practices drive clean air and water, more and better jobs, and a healthy environment for our families and communities, as our planet returns to a life-sustaining pathway where nothing and no one is wasted.

Over 150 groups across the globe have organized actions [50 events in 18 countries], signed petitions, or taken to social media to unite around a common blueprint for leaders to build a better future beyond COVID-19.

Read the full media release here.

Reprieve for Mpumalanga Strategic Water Source Area as Court halts start of new coal mine

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria

24 MARCH 2021 - Yesterday, March 23rd, the North Gauteng High Court issued an interdict preventing a coal mining company from commencing mining and related activities in a Strategic Water Source Area. The interdict was issued to allow the legal challenges of its various permits to be decided first – before harm is done to strategic and important water sources.

The High Court’s order prevents and restrains coal miner Uthaka Energy from conducting any mining activities and mining-related operations (including any activities preparatory, ancillary or incidental to mining) – save for survey pegging of the surface infrastructure boundary and wetlands demarcation pegging of the approved plan – in respect of its proposed Yzermyn coal mine near Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga.

The proposed coal mine would fall within a Strategic Water Source Area – one of only 22 areas where more than 50% of South Africa’s freshwater originates. Protecting strategic water source areas is crucial for South Africa’s water security, and for their ability to provide water for people and our country’s economic activity.

You can read the full media release here.

Community activists protesting devastating impacts of coal mine shot at and arrested

Community activists protesting outside Ikwezi Coal mine on 11 March 2021

Community activists protesting outside Ikwezi Coal mine on 11 March 2021

17 March 2021 - In Dannhauser, the activists were protesting against the Ikwezi Coal Mine’s impacts on the community, their property and their livestock. The continuous blasting by the mine emits heavy black smoke that is not only debilitating to the community’s general wellbeing, but also places them at greater risk of respiratory illnesses. The blasting has also cracked some community members’ houses, and there is fear that some of the houses will not be able to withstand the continuous blasting.

Community members also contend that they are losing livestock because they are grazing on grass covered with black coal dust, and they think that mine waste may have contaminated some of the local water sources.

“The experiences of the community next to which Ikwezi operates its coal mine are standard for so many mining communities across the Mpumalanga Highveld,” says Robby Mokgalaka, community coal campaigner from environmental justice group groundWork. “Mining companies arrive with many promises, but it is those communities that then face devastation to their lives and livelihoods, without sharing in any of the profits.”

Participants in the two-day protest outside Ikwezi’s coal mine were unarmed and non-violent, and were not trespassing on any property. Yet while community representatives were negotiating with mine officials during the second day of protest for a suitable meeting venue to discuss the community’s grievances, police opened fire on the group when they refused to disperse. Various activists suffered injuries.

According to the protestors, Mr Bonani Ndlovu, a director of Ikwezi, was present during the shooting and arrest of the activists.

Occurrences like these are not unique to the Dannhauser community. In April 2019, the Centre for Environmental Rights together with groundWork, Human Rights Watch and EarthJustice released a report titled: “We Know Our Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities. This report reveals that the South African Police Service frequently use violence and arbitrary arrests, in concert with mining companies and their security firms, to silence the voices of community activists raising legitimate complaints about mines and their operations next to their homes. Communities living adjacent to mining operations pay an unacknowledged price for these operations with their health, wellbeing and livelihoods.

The Constitutional right to protest peacefully and unarmed continues to be unreasonably violated by the South African Police Services. It is unacceptable for the police to use violence and unlawful arrests against the community members who are merely trying to protest to assert their rights for a better life. However, exercising the right to protest is increasingly becoming a risk and danger to activists’ freedom and to life.

“Condemning the acts of members of the South African Police is no longer enough: we need tangible interventions from government to reform how police view and respond to peaceful protest,” says Matome Kapa, attorney and head of the Activist Support & Training programme at the Centre for Environmental Rights.

Read the full media release here.

groundWork Releases State of Environmental Justice Report 2020 - “The Elites Don’t Care”: People on the frontlines of Coal, Covid, and the Climate Crisis

Image: Daylin Paul

17 March 2021 - Environmental Justice organisation groundWork will today launch their latest report on the state of environmental justice in South Africa titled The Elites Don’t Care: People on the frontlines of Coal, Covid, and the Climate Crisis.

This report follows on from Down to Zero, the groundWork 2019 report on the politics of an (un)just transition. It looks at the impacts of the pandemic from global to local level, in particular reporting on the research of community activists in each of South Africa’s active coal fields. It also examines government’s actual climate response, as it bets on a fossil gas bonanza to deliver economic redemption and still punts the so called clean coal, even as Eskom abandons that myth.

The climate crisis is part of the broader ecological crisis created by global capitalism and its devotion to profit and growth. The Covid crisis emerges from the rent in the web of life and, while climate change is a slow motion wreck, the impact of Covid is synchronised across the world and compressed into weeks, months and a year or two. It does not merely foreshadow climate change. It is an instance of the disruptions that follow from wide scale ecological disturbance – including climate change. And the baleful fires of the pandemic have illuminated and widened the fault lines of the global economy – exposing rank inequality, poverty and hunger.

At the report launch, community activists from different coal struggles across the country will share their research of experience in the coal frontlines during a deadly pandemic. From people in the Mpumalanga Highveld where breathing clean air is a daily struggle, to Ermelo where mines are abandoned post extraction and land is left without any efforts to rehabilitate, to northern KwaZulu-Natal where livelihoods are destroyed through forced removals and extreme violence against those who resist. Given the experience of Covid, what should people expect from government as the climate crisis intensifies?

You can read the full media release, get contact information, download the report, or view the virtual report release here.

Divide to Conquer: Some activists released unconditionally and only women activists to appear in court on 12 April 2021.

groundWork's  coal campaigner Robby Mokgalaka in custody at the Dannhauser police station

groundWork's coal campaigner Robby Mokgalaka in custody at the Dannhauser police station

15 March 2021 - Eight environmental justice activists who were arrested on Friday 12 March 2021 during a protest against Ikwezi Coal Mine in Dannhauser have been released. Robby Mokgalaka, Zakhele Mthanti, Isaac Shabalala, Sipho Shabalala, and Themba Khumalo have been released with no charge. Only women activists, Sindi Kubheka, Zanele Kubheka, Buhle Kunene, have been released on bail and will again appear in Dannhauser magistrate court on the 12th of April.

This appears to be an old apartheid tactic of divide to conquer, as all the activists were part of the protest against the mine and its impacts on the community and the environment.  About 40 fellow activists and supporters gathered and picketed outside the Dannhauser magistrate court and demanded the unconditional release of their comrades.

The activists are expected to lay charges of assault and illegal arrest against the police. This after police fired rubber bullets at peaceful protesters, and activist Thoko Nkosi was apprehended and arrested by Mine security. Nkosi was later released on Friday. The picket is also expected to be taken to Dannhauser police station where the eight were detained in police cells since Friday.

See our previous news item on the arrest of the activists here.

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Again, Blacks are Vulnerable Targets of Police Brutality

Eight activists arrested during a mine protest to appear in court for a bail hearing

Activists  and community members protest Ikwezi Coal Mine in Dannhauser

Activists and community members protest Ikwezi Coal Mine in Dannhauser

15 March 2021 - Eight of the nine activists arrested during a protest against Ikwezi coal mine on Friday, will today appear before the Magistrate Court in Dannhauser.  Sindi Kubheka, Robby Mokgalaka, Themba Khumalo, Isaac Shabalala, Zakhele Mthanti, Zanele Kubheka, Buhle Kunene and Sipho Shabalala will all stand before the Court for a bail hearing.

The eight were part of a two-day protest where police fired rubber bullets, one activists sustained serious injuries others sustained just minor injuries and nine were taken into custody. The protest by community members and activists started on Thursday and on Friday, the second day of protest the people were confronted by police.

It is not clear why police decided to fire rubber bullets as this was a peaceful protest and this horrible incident took place while community representatives and mine personnel were busy in talks for a suitable venue to engage with the protesters. The protesters were not armed, did not show any signs of violent behavior, nor were they trespassing. And the law clearly states that, police use approved rubber rounds to disperse crowds only in extreme circumstances, if less forceful methods have proven ineffective.

“What happened in Dannhauser cannot be viewed in isolation from the incident that claimed the life of a bystander Mthokozisi Ntumba in Braamfontein during a student protest. The police brutality that we keep witnessing is a serious threat to our democracy and the rights of people to protest and express their concerns and views. While police misconduct and brutality is not acceptable in any way or form, this senseless behaviour seems to be directed or targeted at a specific racial group – blacks”, says Bobby Peek from environmental justice group groundWork.

One activist, Thoko Nkosi was later released on Friday after it was established that she had not been apprehended by the police but by the mine security guards. Local activists will stage a picket outside the Dannhauser magistrate court tomorrow morning calling for the unconditional release of those arrested.

You can read the details of the picket to be held, background information on the dispute between the communities and mine, or contact details here.

NEWSFLASH - Dannhauser Ikwezi Mine Protest: Nine Activists Arrested

12 March 2021 - Just two days after bystander Mthokozisi Ntumba was killed when police opened fire on student protesters in Braamfontein, activists in KZN protesting peacefully against the Ikwezi mine were confronted by excessive force from SAPS members.

Nine environmental activists have been taken into police custody in Dannhauser, KwaZulu Natal. They were charged with 1) contravening a court order; 2) public violence; and 3) assault of a police officer. The nine were part of a group peacefully protesting against the Ikwezi coal mine.  Eight were finally charged and held in custody until a court appearance on Monday, 15th March 2021.

The planned two-day protest started on Thursday morning and the group continued their peaceful protest into Friday when they were confronted by police. While community representatives were busy negotiating with the mine personnel, police fired rubber bullets at the group who were peacefully demonstrating. The police also used force to pin down and arrest the activists, among them four women, who were part of the protest.

Sindi Kubheka, Robby Mokgalaka, Themba Khumalo, Isaac Shabalala, Zakhele Mthanti, Zanele Kubheka, Buhle Kunene and Sipho Shabalala are all behind bars at the Dannhauser police station. The protesters, including the nine arrested, did not damage any property, were not trespassing, nor were they in any way violent during the protest. 

It is clear that the South African Police Services do not understand how to undertake public safety policing and violence is their only response.  At the protest the police made use of excessive force when it was not necessary. They abused their powers and denied affected community activists their right to protest and their voices to be heard. The unnecessary use of force and arrest on black protesters in this country is a continuing trend. 

This abuse by police and the failure of government to act to protect people has been documented in a 2019 report by Human Rights Watch, which focused on the impact of mining on people in South Africa.  This report called on the Department of Police, including the National and Provincial Commissioners, to:

  • Ensure that law enforcement authorities respect and protect the right to protest, including by not using unlawful measures of crowd control beyond what is strictly necessary to prevent harm to people or excessive harm to property;  and
  • Ensure that community rights defenders and others opposing mines are not arbitrarily arrested or detained, including by complying with of the Constitutional Court's decision prohibiting the arrest and criminal prosecution of conveners for failing to give notice of a protest to municipalities.

This report also warned of the violence in Somkhele which sadly led to the murder of MamFikile Nshangase.

Today it was clear that the police were pre-empting the situation and came to the second day of the protest in armored vehicles.  The community fearing violence decided to sit down, but still the police used violence against them after a rock was allegedly thrown at the police.

At the Dannhauser police station and Magistrate's Court, the police delayed in processing the charges and as a result bail could not be granted, which means the activists will spend the entire weekend in jail.

For contact details to obtain further information please click here.

Enough is enough: Communities in Newcastle Protest Ikwezi Coal Mine

A coal  truck passes through a village in Dannhauser,  Newcastle. Photo: News24

A coal truck passes through a village in Dannhauser, Newcastle. Photo: News24

11 March 2021 - The mining affected communities in Newcastle are protesting on Thursday and Friday, 11-12 March 2021. The communities of Kliprand farm, Cloneen, Kàlvlakte, Jan Farm and Dragan Farm of Dannhauser in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal Province, are protesting against the Ikwezi Coal Mine about its Kliprand colliery which has continuously refused to take responsibility for the impacts from its mining operations. The Australian company which operates an opencast coal mine in the area is accused of abusing and bullying communities.

The community is mainly concerned with the following:

  • People’s health is being affected at Kliprand Farm by coal dust caused by the mine and trucks.
  • Blasting at the mine is damaging houses.
  • There is no open democracy as the Social Labour Plan (SLP) is not a public document and does not serve the needs of local people.
  • The mine brings no benefit to local people as labour is outsourced.
  • Community livestock are dying in numbers because they are grazing grass covered with coal dust.
  • The mine management refuses to engage with community members.

This two-day protest was preceded by a protest which took place last December and where the community handed over a memorandum to mine management. All the issues raised in that protest are yet to be resolved and there has not been any engagement with the community.

“Enough is enough, we’re not going back to the regime where mines exploited our resources, destroyed our land and left us dumps, contaminated water and sick people. Ikwezi mine must take responsibility for their harm on our well-being and the environment.” Themba Khumalo, Secretary of Sukumani Environmental Justice

"The problem with our system is that corporates are allowed to do as they please. Mining companies violate the rights of the poor with impunity because they are bigger than the law.” Robby Mokgalaka, groundWork’s coal campaigner.

On 01 June, 2018, the Department of Mineral Resources suspended Ikwezi Mine's license owing to its unlawful failure to comply with the social and labour plan despite having had the mining rights for six years, and how the mine transgressed the approved environmental management programme by tampering with graves.

Contact details and links to further information are avaiable here.

For earlier news and our news archives click here, or here to access our collection of media items.