Zero Mercury is the goal, as the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in collaboration with the Africa Institute plans its Global Environment Facility(GEF) funded Mercury Initial Assessment Project (MIA). This effort together with DEA’s Mercury inventory and cost benefit analysis project and the recent National Consultative Workshop on mercury added products (MAPS), are the first steps government, private sector and NGOs are taking towards the ratification and subsequent implementation of the Minamata Convention.

The national consultative workshop on mercury added products, which took place in Tshwane on 2nd November 2016, was organized by groundWork [1], with the support of the Zero Mercury Working Group(ZMWG) [2], and funding from the German Ministry of Environment and the European Environmental Bureau(EEB) [3]. The workshop constitutes part of the main deliverables of a broader EEB/ZMWG project aimed at assisting developing countries towards early ratification and implementation of the Minamata convention, with a focus on reducing mercury through the development of mercury-added product phase out provisions.

Researcher, Retha Moshoeshoe from Tshwane University of Technology, states that; “It's important to phase Mercury out due to its bio accumulative nature. It has worrying health adverse effects. Of special concern to me is the effects to unborn babies and counterfeit skin lightening cosmetics.”

The Minamata convention on mercury is the latest in the series of global chemicals and waste conventions to come out of the United Nations system and is a major international development in controlling the harmful effects of mercury pollution. The objective of the Minamata convention on mercury is “to protect the human health and the environment from the anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.”

The convention is comprised of 21 Articles and Article 3, which was the main focus of the workshop, deals specifically with the phase down/out of mercury use in the following products; switches and relays, batteries, cosmetics and lighting as well as dental amalgam/medical devices.

Portia Dwane from Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says; “Everyone is exposed to mercury through air, drinking water, soil and food. Concerns have been raised, for instance, about the amount of mercury building up in fish as a result of pollution.”

The workshop was attended by various stalk holders and individuals, including government representatives, private sector, namely; Department of Health, Environmental affairs, Trade and industry, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Science and Technology, South African bureau of Standards (SABS) and the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS). Also in attendance at the workshop were representatives of the identified industrial associations representing manufacturers and distributors of the MAPs namely; South African Dental Association (SADA), Association of Representatives for the Electronics Industry (AREI), Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association of South Africa (CTFA) as well as the South African Women Dermatologist Association.

Lancelot Riyano from NRCS adds; “The workshop was intellectually stimulating and knowledge intensive, all in pursuit of the noble goal of sustaining life on earth in an unadulterated state, enabled by the Zero Mercury goal.”

Whilst this workshop is one of the first of its kind, it is not the only action South Africa is taking to reduce mercury production and improve the disposal of it. groundwork in partnership with Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) [4], have built strong partnerships with hospitals and clinics through the Global Green Healthy Hospitals Network. GGHH has brought together health sector organizations passionate about creating greener, sustainable health care systems. One of GGHH’s goals linked to the reduction of harmful chemicals, also supports the Minamata Convention. The mercury workshop that recently took place in Tshwane and the government initiatives that are following, are no doubt the beginning of an important sustainable process that will improve health and protect the environment.



[1] 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 Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International.
[2] The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) is an international coalition of over 95 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from more than 50 countries from around the world formed in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project.  ZMWG strives for zero supply, demand, and emissions of mercury from all anthropogenic sources, with the goal of reducing mercury in the global environment to a minimum.  Our mission is to advocate and support the adoption and implementation of a legally binding instrument which contains mandatory obligations to eliminate where feasible, and otherwise minimize, the global supply and trade of mercury, the global demand for mercury, anthropogenic releases of mercury to the environment, and human and wildlife exposure to mercury.  
[3] The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), located in Brussels, Belgium, was created in 1974. The EEB is now the largest federation of environmental citizens’ organisations in Europe. It currently consists of over 150 member organisations in more than 30 countries (virtually all EU Member States plus some accession and neighbouring countries), including a growing number of European networks, and representing some 15 million individual members and supporters. These organisations range from local and national, to European and international. The EEB aims to provide a focal point for our members to monitor and respond to the EU’s environmental policies.  The EEB is the environmental voice of European citizens, standing for environmental justice, sustainable development and participatory democracy. We want the EU to ensure all people a healthy environment and rich biodiversity.
[4] Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is an international coalition that works to transform the health care sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it becomes ecologically sustainable and a leading advocate for environmental health and justice. For more information visit

Samuel Chademana
Mercury Campaign Manager, groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa
Tel (w): +27 (0) 33 342 5662
Tel (m): +27 (0) 72 923 1942

Nombulelo Shange
Media and Communications Manager, groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa
Tel (w): +27 (0) 33 342 5662
Tel (m): +27 (0) 74 874 2177