groundWork (Friends of the Earth South Africa)

SA COAL COMMUNITIES MEET AT KZN COAL HOTSPOT - National coal communities exchange organised by groundWork

Mtubatuba & Kwambonambi, South Africa, Wednesday, 21 September 2016 – Communities from the different coal fields in South Africa will for the next three days meet at the heart of KwaZulu Natal’s coal struggle to exchange information and experiences and build solidarity.

Over a decade ago, the Somkhele community welcomed the Petmin coal mine in the hope of employment, which to this day remains a largely unfulfilled promise. Within the same area, the Fuleni community has for the last two years been resisting Ibutho Coal’s coal mine proposed for the border of the Hluhluwe/Mfolozi Game Reserve.

Communities from Johannesburg, the Highveld and the Waterberg will join their KwaZulu Natal compatriots from Newcastle and Xolobeni in visiting Somkhele and Fuleni [1]. The Kwambonambi and Mtubatuba areas in northern KwaZulu Natal show the brutal evidence of how coal has created environmental injustices and increased poverty, and how the promise of development through mining has failed society.

According to Phila Ndimande, Coordinator of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation [2]:

“Due to an ill-conceived belief by government that coal developments will assist our country’s economic development, the importance of environmental and health impacts from coal receives little priority, and people’s voices highlighting the negative impacts are disregarded. In the process of this coal development, the impacted community have little benefits and are left frustrated with hopes of job creation remaining unfulfilled.” 

At least one activist from each of these mining affected communities has been threatened by their local traditional authority or mine management. From a truck being torched in the middle of the night after a protest in Somkhele to a woman being beaten up after a meeting in Ermelo, these are the realities community members face when standing up for their constitutional right to an environmental that is not harmful to their health or well-being.

A leading activist from the Mpukunyoni Community Property Association (MCPA) [3] in the Somkhele community who lives in fear for his life and thus does not wish to be named, notes that:

“The community lived well with the environment and each other before the mine began operations; thereafter, the community has experienced violence, unfulfilled promises of a better life, the destruction of their sustainable livelihoods, and an environment that has undergone irreparable damage.”

Robby Mokgalaka, Coal Campaigner at groundWork [4], environmental justice organisation coordinating this community exchange:

“The reality of brutality that many community activists face is indicative of the unjust nature that underpin the coal industry across the country. It is symbolic of the collapse of people’s rights and ultimately South Africa’s democracy. Coal development is not people’s development, but development for elite to line their pocket.”

Visiting communities will be taken on “toxic tours” in Somkhele today and Fuleni tomorrow and critically, will discuss how solidarity can be strengthened across these struggles which are similar throughout South Africa.

[1] For more information on the struggles of the different organisations see here.
[2] The Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) established itself in 2014 to add the weight of the local community’s voices to the struggle against Ibutho Coal’s proposed mine on the border of the Hluhluwe/Mfolozi Game Reserve, as they were facing a threat to their agricultural livelihoods, lack of clean air and water, and possible displacement.
[3] The Mpukunyoni Community Property Association (MCPA) formed in 2013 to highlight the people’s grievances in relation to the destruction the Petmin coal mine has caused to their environment, their livelihoods and their health.
[4] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Coal, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International

Megan Lewis
Media and Communications Campaigner – groundWork
Tel (w): 033 324 5662
Tel (m): 083 450 5541

Robby Mokgalaka
Coal Campaigner – groundWork
Tel (m): 073 774 3362

Phila Ndimande
Coordinator – Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation
Tel (m): 074 579 3004