Letter to the Editor,The Mercury, 25 July 2006 in response to Bonke Dumisa, CEO of Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, opinion piece and speech delivered to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry this third Annual Environmental meeting, as the CEO of this body.

25 July 2006
- Bonke's colonial environmental construct

The Editor

Bonke Dumisa’s opinion piece refers. Similar views were expressed at his address to the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), third Annual Environmental meeting, as the CEO of this body.

Bonke’s interpretation of community people and NGOs challenging environment issues are a figment of a colonial construct. Today, community people and NGOs who campaign on environmental issues do so from a justice perspective, which is referred to as environmental justice - meaning that we fight to have the right to live in an “environment that is not harmful to our health and well-being”. What is critical in this statement, which is a direct quote from our Bill of Rights, is that we are not fighting for a clean environment - that is colonial. We are protecting lives, wanting safe communities and, most importantly in South Africa, safe jobs.

His contention that community people and environmental NGOs are against “job creating projects” is a misrepresentation of the distressing business truth about the city of Durban. For it is recognised that while industrial expansions have occurred in places such as south Durban, there has been a decrease in jobs in this sector. More importantly, what he fails to mention is that no EIA has ever been rejected as yet for industrial development.

Ironically, in Richards Bay, Mondi requested government to relocate Tata Steel away from the site adjacent to them because of possible chrome contamination of their paper that is exported to Europe. Government agreed to this industrial request, then stuck it next to the local community who said no, we do not want chrome pollution. Yet government gave the go ahead, because Mondi’s exports to Europe are more important than the lungs and health of people. This is environmental injustice.

With regard to hazardous waste being dumped in Umlazi, the south Durban community people stood in solidarity for years with the Umlazi people fighting for the site to be closed. On 27 February 1997, it was closed. This was after much lobbying and late night meetings with councillors in Umlazi. However, it remains open today, despite our contestation, so that members of the DCCI can continue dumping their hazardous industrial ash within a black neighbourhood. Speak to your DCCI members about this injustice; do not blame it on NGOs.

Let us be frank, environmental justice is about power. The power to enact your democratic right as given to you by a hard fought struggle for more than 300 years. The power to say we want an industrial development paradigm that serves the people, not increased profits for business.

Finally, to be blasé about DDT, is a irresponsible attitude by a senior business leader, who should be fully aware of the global debates around the dangers of DDT.

Sincerely yours

S. (Bobby) Peek

Director of groundWork