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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.


Deadly Air Case: The Struggle to Breathe Clean Air in Mpumalanga goes to Court

Landmark #DeadlyAir air pollution case against South African government will be heard in the Pretoria High Court from 17 May 2021 - Two environmental justice groups are asking the High Court to declare the poor ambient air quality in the Highveld Priority Area a violation of the Constitutional right to an environment not harmful to health or well-being.

Wayawaya settlement

Scenes from Wayawaya settlement on the outskirts of Phola: Image by Daylin Paul

17 May 2021 - Today, the Pretoria High Court will for the first time start to hear arguments in a court case that has become known as the “Deadly Air” case: a case about the toxic air pollution on the Mpumalanga Highveld.

The applicants, Mpumalanga community environmental justice organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (VEJMA) and environmental justice group groundWork are asking the court to declare that the poor ambient air quality in the Highveld is a violation of Section 24 of the Constitution, which provides that everyone has the right to an environment not harmful to their health or wellbeing”.

The applicants claim that, by failing to improve the deadly levels of air pollution in the Highveld Priority Area (HPA), the South African government has violated the Constitutional right to a healthy environment for the people living and working in the HPA. They are asking the court to order the government to take further steps to improve the air quality in the area.

Read the full media release here.

'Deadly air' case truly a matter of life or death

13 May 2021 – In early 2003, landmark litigation was brought by the Treatment Action Campaign against the government. The TAC confronted the government for not providing proven and cost effective medicines for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV to pregnant mothers.

It won the court case on the basis of the constitutional guarantee of the right to health care, and the government was ordered to start programmes for prevention of mother-to-child-transmission of HIV in public health facilities.

As the wheels of justice turned, it became clear that the struggle for ordinary people against HIV would never be the same again and that people could live healthy lives with the virus. The "Deadly Air" case, which will be heard in the Pretoria High Court from May 17 to the 19, is similar to this. The landmark litigation was filed in June 2019 by groundWork and VEM Vukani Environmental Movement with the support of the Centre for Environmental Rights.

Read the full opinion piece here.

Three activists to make their third appearance in Court

The struggle of the Newcastle female activists who were arrested and shot at by the police during a protest against Ikwezi mine continues

Accused Dannhauser Activists

Buhle Kunene, Sindi Kubheka, and Zanele Kubheka outside the Dannhauser magistrate court

10 May 2021- The struggle continues for the three activists who were arrested and shot at by the police on the 12th March 2021 for fighting for their right against the Ikwezi coal mine in Dannhauser – Newcastle. Buhle Kunene, Sindi Kubheka, and Zanele Kubheka will make their third appearance at the Dannhauser Magistrate Court for the charges of public violence. The three were part of a community protest against Ikwezi Coal Mine where police fired rubber bullets at the peaceful protesters.

The activists last appeared in the same Magistrate Court on 12th April 2021 only for the case to be to postponed. The court is expected to make a decision on whether or not to transfer the case to the Regional court. Something positive to draw out of the situation is that the prosecutor decided to drop the second charges of contravening the court interdict against the three.

The three were part of the eight activists that were arrested on the 12th of March 2021. They first appeared in court on the 15th March 2021, where the prosecutor requested for postponement of the case so that she could assess the video footage and see if they were not part of the people who threw stones at the police. The activists expected the video footage to have been viewed and for the decision on whether or not to prosecute them to have also been made, only to find that the prosecutor has not looked at the video footage. We all know that Justice delayed is justice denied.  We hope for a better work from the prosecution this time around.

For further information click here.

Health Groups Call for Health at the Heart of South Africa’s Climate Commitments

07 May 2021 - South African and pan-African health groups are calling on the South African government to recognise that health is the bottom line of climate change, and to put health at the heart of its climate commitments ahead of this November’s COP26 global climate meeting.

In its public submission on South Africa’s draft updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA), the South African Medical Association (SAMA), and Amref Health Africa note that climate change poses severe and numerous threats to human health: “In South Africa, these include exposure to drought, heat (especially for outdoor workers), wildfires, flooding, food security, and mosquito-borne and other infectious diseases”. “At the same time”, added SAMA, “action on climate change offers one of the greatest public health opportunities of the 21st century”. The groups therefore welcome the NDC’s recognition of the constitutional right to a safe and healthy environment, and offer policy guidance in their submission on how this right can be protected and promoted.

NDCs are the 2015 Paris Agreement’s key mechanism for collectively tackling climate change, requiring each country to define a national target and actions to limit global heating. As of May 2021, existing NDCs and country pledges still leave the world on course for a catastrophic 2.4 degrees of heating, however.

Read the full media release here.

Ground-breaking litigation sees organisations challenge new power plant in Richards Bay

All fossil fuels (including gas) are accelerators of the climate threat

06 May 2021 - In April 2021, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and groundWork filed review papers in the Pretoria High Court challenging the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s authorisation of the Richards Bay 3000MW Combined Cycle Power Plant. This landmark litigation marks the first time that a gas-to-power plant has been challenged in a court in South Africa.

Represented by environmental law specialists, Cullinan and Associates, and supported by the Natural Justice organisation, SDCEA and groundWork are acting in the interests of the public and the environment in challenging the authorisation granted to state-owned public utility, Eskom. 

SDCEA and groundWork have approached the High Court to review Minister Barbara Creecy's rejection of the organisations’ appeal against this authorisation.

Read the full media release here.

SA’s revised climate plans are not ambitious enough

Life After Coal Campaign partners Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), groundWork and Earthlife Africa, along with several civil society groups, have submitted comments on South Africa’s draft updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – the commitment to tackle climate change under the Paris Agreement.

04 May 2021 - In written arguments submitted on 30 April 2021, ahead of Workers’ Day, the Life After Coal campaign has called on government to set more ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets in the effort to diversify South Africa’s energy mix.

As Africa’s worst polluter and most industrialised country, South Africa has an important obligation to accelerate its efforts to cut GHG emission reductions, in order to meet its legal obligations under the Constitution, domestic and international laws and secure climate justice that lays the basis for a just transition for the Continent.

In updating its 2015 NDC - South Africa’s voluntary emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement - the government has sought to tighten SA’s GHG emission targets. However, it has opted for conservative and unambitious GHG emission ranges for 2021 to 2030, with the consequence that much steeper emission reductions would be needed after 2030. This is despite a call from a United Nation’s intergovernmental climate change panel (the IPCC) for the world to halve its GHG emissions by 2030 to stand a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Read the full media release here.

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