Memorandum - 02 September 2004

To: Honourable President Mbeki

Mr P Cox and Mr P Kruger (Sasol)

CC: Minister M Mdladlana (Minister of Labour)
Minister M Tshabalala-Msimang (Minister of Health)
Minister M Mpahlwa (Minister of Trade and Industry)
Minister P Mlambo-Nqcuka (Minister of Minerals and Energy)
Minister B Mabandla (Minister of Justice)
Minister van Schalkwyk (Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism)
Mr M Burger and Mr E Patel (Nedlac)


groundWork, Sasolburg Air Quality Monitoring Committee, Table View Residents Association, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Boipatong Environmental Working Group, Vuka Environment Dot Com (Richards Bay), The Voice of the Voiceless eMbalenhle, Highveld East Community Environmental Monitoring Association

Call for Commission of Enquiry into worker and community safety in the South African petro-chemical industry

On 1 September 2004, five people died and 142 were injured in an explosion at the SASOL plant in Secunda. This major incident comes in the wake of community outrage over incidents in June and July this year[1].

In the light of this murderous track record of SASOL, groundWork[2], community organisations and residents from eMbalenhle (Secunda) and Zamdela (Sasolburg), south Durban, Richards Bay, Boipatong and Table View re-iterate our call for a Presidential Commission of Enquiry into the:

· Worker and community safety of the petro-chemical industry in South Africa;

· Labour practices of the petro-chemical industry; and

· Liability of senior refinery managers in the deaths and injury of people at the petro-chemical plants.

Sasol operations have led to the death of nine workers in the last three months. Sasol has a poor record with regard to worker safety and incidents. In the year 1999-2000 Sasol had 9 fatalities and 1163 injuries in over 230 incidents.

Sasol has failed to respond to groundWork’s correspondence requesting information on the incident that led to the death of one worker on 22 June 2004.

However, Sasol is not the only company that is implicated in the deaths of workers. In 2001 a worker died at the Engen Refinery in south Durban and two workers died at the Natref Refinery (owned by Sasol and Total) in Sasolburg.

Other big chemical facilities in South Africa (Caltex, Engen, Sapref and Foskor) have had major incidents at their plants over the past two years groundWork, like various unions organising at these plants, is also concerned that working conditions have deteriorated due to the drive for profits by the petro-chemical industry. The casualisation and outsourcing of labour, the reduced time for maintenance and the reduction in staff numbers are placing strain on the industry that results in worker deaths.

Honourable President Mbeki, we call on you to institute an enquiry as a matter of urgency to stop the environmental injustice and abuse of basic human rights that has become typical of the petro-chemical industry.

We would avail ourselves and resources to expedite such an enquiry. Please contact us for further discussion.

Yours sincerely

Bobby Peek




[1] On June 21, a gas liquor storage tank exploded, killing one and lightly injuring six, followed by another explosion on July 1 at Sasol Collieries in which one person was killed.

[2] groundWork is an environmental justice and human rights NGO working with community groups who campaign for environmental justice at the fence-line of the petro-chemical industry in South Africa.