Local Communities Confront Climate Mafia

Community membersprotest outside the venue for the SASOL AGM

22 September 2019 - People from grassroot environmental justice organisations in three toxic hotspots around the country will tomorrow (23 September 2019) protest against government and corporates responsible for local climate change impacts such as health, air, water and land destruction. The communities of the Highveld (eMalahleni, Ermelo, Middelburg, Doornkop, Ogies and Phola), Sasolburg and Newcastle will simultaneously confront ArcelorMittal, Sasol, Eskom, government and municipalities, demanding they immediately address all health, social and economic impacts in their communities.

So far these big polluters have operated with impunity without taking any responsibility or bearing any consequences for their actions which have proved to be nothing less than a ‘death sentence’ for affected communities. Government has failed to enforce the law against this mafia of climate gangsters allowing them to pollute with impunity.

These neighbourhoods are all connected by a common thread of health impacts from air pollution (from Eskom’s coal fired power stations, Sasol coal plants, coal mines and other heavily polluting industries), inadequate access to water, contaminated water, and unrehabilitated land from mining operations.

Mining, and in particular coal mining is one of the main forms of climate gangsterism.  Both the South African Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Watch have investigated, documented and exposed human rights abuses by mining companies.  But the government has failed to act on recommendations to date.
Affected community voices are set to reinforce the calls for a Just Transition, which saw 18 climate protests in different cities around the country on Friday, 20 September as part of the global climate strike.  

Section 24 of the Bill of Rights in our democratic constitution clearly states that: “everyone has a right to an environment that is not harmful to his health and well-being.”  But in the current context, people lose their livelihoods and heritage (family graves) due to forced removals by mines.  Along with this their health is being impacted by air, water and land pollution.  A just transition is the only way the government can deliver on Section 24.

Some of the demands from affected communities are:

In June this year environmental justice group groundWork (Friends of the Earth, South Africa) and Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action, a Highveld community-based organization, was forced to approach the high court in what is now known as the “Deadly Air” case as the government had failed to take action on air pollution affecting people’s health on the Highveld.

The pivotal fact in this landmark case, which names President Cyril Ramaphosa as a respondent, is that the South African government has known about the lethal levels of air pollution on the Mpumalanga and east Gauteng Highveld since at least 2007 and declared the area a High Priority Area, but nothing has been done to curb the deadly situation in reducing pollution that is killing thousands of vulnerable people annually. 

The catastrophic output from climate change is visible in local communities, and the South African government needs to act locally, rather than make false and weak promises internationally.
See community demands here.

Tsepang Molefe
groundWork Media
+27 74 405 1257

Nkanyiso Mthombeni
Newcastle Environmental Justice Alliance
+27 82 730 9701

Samson Mokoena
Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance
+27 84 291 8510

Thomas Mnguni
+27 72 449 5655