Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa, 15 September 2014 – Breathing is the most basic process of life. Slow Poison: Air pollution, public and failing governance [1], is a new report published by environmental justice organization, groundWork [2], Centre for Environmental Rights and community partners [3] on the fatal state of air quality in South Africa. 

Slow Poison outlines the history of regulations governing air pollution – a story of collusion between the state and industry – and of people’s struggles to secure an air quality regime that protects people’s health, as outlined in section 24 of the Constitution.

Despite being declared the first air priority area in the 2007, the Vaal Triangle has yet to meet any of the requirements set out in the area’s Air Quality Management Plan and exceedances in particulate matter of 2.5 and 10 micro-millimeters for 25 days and over have been numerous.

Witbank is known today to have some of the dirtiest air in the world, even though the Highveld was declared an air priority area in 2008. It shows similar exceedances that are, like the Vaal, far above South Africa’s own prescribed air pollution standards and even higher than the World Health Organization’s standards.

While not formally declared an Air Priority Area by the Department of Environmental Affairs, the South Durban Basin has grown into a major industrial hub with two petrochemical refineries in amongst other polluting industries. With the disregard for the Multi-Point Plan (2000) in 2011 by The Metropolitan’s dismantling of the pollution control and risk management unit, today air pollution is still not taken seriously. eThekwini continues to ignore the recommendations of the South Durban Health Study published in 2006, which found that even modest increases in air pollution levels affect those already vulnerable to lung diseases and increases the number of people that will become vulnerable.

The report details government’s failure to enforce the law or to maintain proper air quality monitoring and information systems while industry disdains compliance with the law. Critically, it concludes that government is once more allowing the air quality regime to collapse.

Two press conferences were held today in Johannesburg and Durban with the editor, writers and affected community members making up the panelists speaking. The list of speakers are as follows:

Bobby Peek – Director, groundWork
Melissa Fourie – Director, Centre for Environmental Rights
Samson Mokoena – Programme Coordinator, Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance
Thomas Mnguni – Programme Coordinator, Highveld Environmental Justice Network
Makoma Lekalakala – Programme Coordinator, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg

David Hallowes – Associate researcher and editor of Slow Poison, groundWork
Desmond D’Sa – Coordinator, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
Romany Roberts – Volunteer, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
Rico Euripidou – Environmental Health Campaigner, groundWork



[1] Find the report here.
[2] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Coal, Climate Justice and Energy, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International
[3] David Hallowes edited the report, while also contributing a section of writing. Robyn Hugo, Attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights contributed sections in the report. Members from community-based organisations in the various pollutions hotspots acted as editors of the report. These were Desmond D’Sa and Bongani Mthembu from the South Durban Environmental Alliance, Samson Mokoena and Caroline Ntaopane from the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, and Thomas Mnguni from the Greater Middleburg Residents Association.


Megan Lewis – Media and Communications, groundWork
Tel: +27 33 342 5662
Mobile: +27 83 450 5541

Bobby Peek – Director, groundWork
Tel: +27 33 342 5662
Mobile: +27 82 464 1383