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2021 NEWS AND MEDIA RELEASES

For all media enquiries please contact Tsepang Molefe by phone on +27 33 342 5662 or +27 64 900 9963, or WhatsApp (+27 64 900 9963), or click here to send an e-mail.  Click here to access our News and Press Release ARCHIVES menu at the page bottom.

Global Day of Action: A Call for Leaders to Go Beyond Recovery to a Zero Waste Future

Zero Waste Proven Strategy for COVID-19 Economic Recovery: Mitigating Climate Change, Creating Good Jobs, and Revitalizing Local Economies

31 March 2021- Environmental Justice groups around the world are joining a Global Day of Action to demand that our leaders go beyond recovery, to a future where zero waste practices drive clean air and water, more and better jobs, and a healthy environment for our families and communities, as our planet returns to a life-sustaining pathway where nothing and no one is wasted.

Over 150 groups across the globe have organized actions [50 events in 18 countries], signed petitions, or taken to social media to unite around a common blueprint for leaders to build a better future beyond COVID-19.

Read the full media release here.

Reprieve for Mpumalanga Strategic Water Source Area as Court halts start of new coal mine

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria

24 MARCH 2021 - Yesterday, March 23rd, the North Gauteng High Court issued an interdict preventing a coal mining company from commencing mining and related activities in a Strategic Water Source Area. The interdict was issued to allow the legal challenges of its various permits to be decided first – before harm is done to strategic and important water sources.

The High Court’s order prevents and restrains coal miner Uthaka Energy from conducting any mining activities and mining-related operations (including any activities preparatory, ancillary or incidental to mining) – save for survey pegging of the surface infrastructure boundary and wetlands demarcation pegging of the approved plan – in respect of its proposed Yzermyn coal mine near Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga.

The proposed coal mine would fall within a Strategic Water Source Area – one of only 22 areas where more than 50% of South Africa’s freshwater originates. Protecting strategic water source areas is crucial for South Africa’s water security, and for their ability to provide water for people and our country’s economic activity.

You can read the full media release here.

Community activists protesting devastating impacts of coal mine shot at and arrested

Community activists protesting outside Ikwezi Coal mine on 11 March 2021

Community activists protesting outside Ikwezi Coal mine on 11 March 2021

17 March 2021 - In Dannhauser, the activists were protesting against the Ikwezi Coal Mine’s impacts on the community, their property and their livestock. The continuous blasting by the mine emits heavy black smoke that is not only debilitating to the community’s general wellbeing, but also places them at greater risk of respiratory illnesses. The blasting has also cracked some community members’ houses, and there is fear that some of the houses will not be able to withstand the continuous blasting.

Community members also contend that they are losing livestock because they are grazing on grass covered with black coal dust, and they think that mine waste may have contaminated some of the local water sources.

“The experiences of the community next to which Ikwezi operates its coal mine are standard for so many mining communities across the Mpumalanga Highveld,” says Robby Mokgalaka, community coal campaigner from environmental justice group groundWork. “Mining companies arrive with many promises, but it is those communities that then face devastation to their lives and livelihoods, without sharing in any of the profits.”

Participants in the two-day protest outside Ikwezi’s coal mine were unarmed and non-violent, and were not trespassing on any property. Yet while community representatives were negotiating with mine officials during the second day of protest for a suitable meeting venue to discuss the community’s grievances, police opened fire on the group when they refused to disperse. Various activists suffered injuries.

According to the protestors, Mr Bonani Ndlovu, a director of Ikwezi, was present during the shooting and arrest of the activists.

Occurrences like these are not unique to the Dannhauser community. In April 2019, the Centre for Environmental Rights together with groundWork, Human Rights Watch and EarthJustice released a report titled: “We Know Our Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities. This report reveals that the South African Police Service frequently use violence and arbitrary arrests, in concert with mining companies and their security firms, to silence the voices of community activists raising legitimate complaints about mines and their operations next to their homes. Communities living adjacent to mining operations pay an unacknowledged price for these operations with their health, wellbeing and livelihoods.

The Constitutional right to protest peacefully and unarmed continues to be unreasonably violated by the South African Police Services. It is unacceptable for the police to use violence and unlawful arrests against the community members who are merely trying to protest to assert their rights for a better life. However, exercising the right to protest is increasingly becoming a risk and danger to activists’ freedom and to life.

“Condemning the acts of members of the South African Police is no longer enough: we need tangible interventions from government to reform how police view and respond to peaceful protest,” says Matome Kapa, attorney and head of the Activist Support & Training programme at the Centre for Environmental Rights.

Read the full media release here.

groundWork Releases State of Environmental Justice Report 2020 - “The Elites Don’t Care”: People on the frontlines of Coal, Covid, and the Climate Crisis

Image: Daylin Paul

17 March 2021 - Environmental Justice organisation groundWork will today launch their latest report on the state of environmental justice in South Africa titled The Elites Don’t Care: People on the frontlines of Coal, Covid, and the Climate Crisis.

This report follows on from Down to Zero, the groundWork 2019 report on the politics of an (un)just transition. It looks at the impacts of the pandemic from global to local level, in particular reporting on the research of community activists in each of South Africa’s active coal fields. It also examines government’s actual climate response, as it bets on a fossil gas bonanza to deliver economic redemption and still punts the so called clean coal, even as Eskom abandons that myth.

The climate crisis is part of the broader ecological crisis created by global capitalism and its devotion to profit and growth. The Covid crisis emerges from the rent in the web of life and, while climate change is a slow motion wreck, the impact of Covid is synchronised across the world and compressed into weeks, months and a year or two. It does not merely foreshadow climate change. It is an instance of the disruptions that follow from wide scale ecological disturbance – including climate change. And the baleful fires of the pandemic have illuminated and widened the fault lines of the global economy – exposing rank inequality, poverty and hunger.

At the report launch, community activists from different coal struggles across the country will share their research of experience in the coal frontlines during a deadly pandemic. From people in the Mpumalanga Highveld where breathing clean air is a daily struggle, to Ermelo where mines are abandoned post extraction and land is left without any efforts to rehabilitate, to northern KwaZulu-Natal where livelihoods are destroyed through forced removals and extreme violence against those who resist. Given the experience of Covid, what should people expect from government as the climate crisis intensifies?

You can read the full media release, get contact information, download the report or view the virtual report release here.

Divide to Conquer: Some activists released unconditionally and only women activists to appear in court on 12 April 2021.

groundWork's  coal campaigner Robby Mokgalaka in custody at the Dannhauser police station

groundWork's coal campaigner Robby Mokgalaka in custody at the Dannhauser police station

15 March 2021 - Eight environmental justice activists who were arrested on Friday 12 March 2021 during a protest against Ikwezi Coal Mine in Dannhauser have been released. Robby Mokgalaka, Zakhele Mthanti, Isaac Shabalala, Sipho Shabalala, and Themba Khumalo have been released with no charge. Only women activists, Sindi Kubheka, Zanele Kubheka, Buhle Kunene, have been released on bail and will again appear in Dannhauser magistrate court on the 12th of April.

This appears to be an old apartheid tactic of divide to conquer, as all the activists were part of the protest against the mine and its impacts on the community and the environment.  About 40 fellow activists and supporters gathered and picketed outside the Dannhauser magistrate court and demanded the unconditional release of their comrades.

The activists are expected to lay charges of assault and illegal arrest against the police. This after police fired rubber bullets at peaceful protesters, and activist Thoko Nkosi was apprehended and arrested by Mine security. Nkosi was later released on Friday. The picket is also expected to be taken to Dannhauser police station where the eight were detained in police cells since Friday.

 
See our previous news item on the arrest of the activists here.

Contacts:
Nkanyiso Mthombeni
+27 82 073 8550
thandolempisi@gmail.com

Tsepang Molefe
+27 74 405 1257
media@groundwork.org.za

Again, Blacks are Vulnerable Targets of Police Brutality

Eight activists arrested during a mine protest to appear in court for a bail hearing

Activists  and community members protest Ikwezi Coal Mine in Dannhauser

Activists and community members protest Ikwezi Coal Mine in Dannhauser

15 March 2021 - Eight of the nine activists arrested during a protest against Ikwezi coal mine on Friday, will today appear before the Magistrate Court in Dannhauser.  Sindi Kubheka, Robby Mokgalaka, Themba Khumalo, Isaac Shabalala, Zakhele Mthanti, Zanele Kubheka, Buhle Kunene and Sipho Shabalala will all stand before the Court for a bail hearing.

The eight were part of a two-day protest where police fired rubber bullets, one activists sustained serious injuries others sustained just minor injuries and nine were taken into custody. The protest by community members and activists started on Thursday and on Friday, the second day of protest the people were confronted by police.

It is not clear why police decided to fire rubber bullets as this was a peaceful protest and this horrible incident took place while community representatives and mine personnel were busy in talks for a suitable venue to engage with the protesters. The protesters were not armed, did not show any signs of violent behavior, nor were they trespassing. And the law clearly states that, police use approved rubber rounds to disperse crowds only in extreme circumstances, if less forceful methods have proven ineffective.

“What happened in Dannhauser cannot be viewed in isolation from the incident that claimed the life of a bystander Mthokozisi Ntumba in Braamfontein during a student protest. The police brutality that we keep witnessing is a serious threat to our democracy and the rights of people to protest and express their concerns and views. While police misconduct and brutality is not acceptable in any way or form, this senseless behaviour seems to be directed or targeted at a specific racial group – blacks”, says Bobby Peek from environmental justice group groundWork.

One activist, Thoko Nkosi was later released on Friday after it was established that she had not been apprehended by the police but by the mine security guards. Local activists will stage a picket outside the Dannhauser magistrate court tomorrow morning calling for the unconditional release of those arrested.

You can read the details of the picket to be held, background information on the dispute between the communities and mine, or contact details here.

NEWSFLASH - Dannhauser Ikwezi Mine Protest: Nine Activists Arrested

12 March 2021 - Just two days after bystander Mthokozisi Ntumba was killed when police opened fire on student protesters in Braamfontein, activists in KZN protesting peacefully against the Ikwezi mine were confronted by excessive force from SAPS members.

Nine environmental activists have been taken into police custody in Dannhauser, KwaZulu Natal. They were charged with 1) contravening a court order; 2) public violence; and 3) assault of a police officer. The nine were part of a group peacefully protesting against the Ikwezi coal mine.  Eight were finally charged and held in custody until a court appearance on Monday, 15th March 2021.

The planned two-day protest started on Thursday morning and the group continued their peaceful protest into Friday when they were confronted by police. While community representatives were busy negotiating with the mine personnel, police fired rubber bullets at the group who were peacefully demonstrating. The police also used force to pin down and arrest the activists, among them four women, who were part of the protest.

Sindi Kubheka, Robby Mokgalaka, Themba Khumalo, Isaac Shabalala, Zakhele Mthanti, Zanele Kubheka, Buhle Kunene and Sipho Shabalala are all behind bars at the Dannhauser police station. The protesters, including the nine arrested, did not damage any property, were not trespassing, nor were they in any way violent during the protest. 

It is clear that the South African Police Services do not understand how to undertake public safety policing and violence is their only response.  At the protest the police made use of excessive force when it was not necessary. They abused their powers and denied affected community activists their right to protest and their voices to be heard. The unnecessary use of force and arrest on black protesters in this country is a continuing trend. 

This abuse by police and the failure of government to act to protect people has been documented in a 2019 report by Human Rights Watch, which focused on the impact of mining on people in South Africa.  This report called on the Department of Police, including the National and Provincial Commissioners, to:

  • Ensure that law enforcement authorities respect and protect the right to protest, including by not using unlawful measures of crowd control beyond what is strictly necessary to prevent harm to people or excessive harm to property;  and
  • Ensure that community rights defenders and others opposing mines are not arbitrarily arrested or detained, including by complying with of the Constitutional Court's decision prohibiting the arrest and criminal prosecution of conveners for failing to give notice of a protest to municipalities.

This report also warned of the violence in Somkhele which sadly led to the murder of MamFikile Nshangase.

Today it was clear that the police were pre-empting the situation and came to the second day of the protest in armored vehicles.  The community fearing violence decided to sit down, but still the police used violence against them after a rock was allegedly thrown at the police.

At the Dannhauser police station and Magistrate's Court, the police delayed in processing the charges and as a result bail could not be granted, which means the activists will spend the entire weekend in jail.

For contact details to obtain further information please click here.

Enough is enough: Communities in Newcastle Protest Ikwezi Coal Mine

A coal  truck passes through a village in Dannhauser,  Newcastle. Photo: News24

A coal truck passes through a village in Dannhauser, Newcastle. Photo: News24

11 March 2021 - The mining affected communities in Newcastle are protesting on Thursday and Friday, 11-12 March 2021. The communities of Kliprand farm, Cloneen, Kàlvlakte, Jan Farm and Dragan Farm of Dannhauser in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal Province, are protesting against the Ikwezi Coal Mine about its Kliprand colliery which has continuously refused to take responsibility for the impacts from its mining operations. The Australian company which operates an opencast coal mine in the area is accused of abusing and bullying communities.

The community is mainly concerned with the following:

  • People’s health is being affected at Kliprand Farm by coal dust caused by the mine and trucks.
  • Blasting at the mine is damaging houses.
  • There is no open democracy as the Social Labour Plan (SLP) is not a public document and does not serve the needs of local people.
  • The mine brings no benefit to local people as labour is outsourced.
  • Community livestock are dying in numbers because they are grazing grass covered with coal dust.
  • The mine management refuses to engage with community members.

This two-day protest was preceded by a protest which took place last December and where the community handed over a memorandum to mine management. All the issues raised in that protest are yet to be resolved and there has not been any engagement with the community.

“Enough is enough, we’re not going back to the regime where mines exploited our resources, destroyed our land and left us dumps, contaminated water and sick people. Ikwezi mine must take responsibility for their harm on our well-being and the environment.” Themba Khumalo, Secretary of Sukumani Environmental Justice

"The problem with our system is that corporates are allowed to do as they please. Mining companies violate the rights of the poor with impunity because they are bigger than the law.” Robby Mokgalaka, groundWork’s coal campaigner.

On 01 June, 2018, the Department of Mineral Resources suspended Ikwezi Mine's license owing to its unlawful failure to comply with the social and labour plan despite having had the mining rights for six years, and how the mine transgressed the approved environmental management programme by tampering with graves.

Contact details and links to further information are avaiable here.

Deadly Air Case Update: Pollution-trapped Highveld communities “need more than sympathy”

Image: © Mujahid Safodien / Greenpeace

Image: © Mujahid Safodien / Greenpeace

06 March 2021 - Environmental justice groups groundWork and the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (VEJMA) have responded to papers filed by the Minister of Environment Forestry and Fisheries in the “Deadly Air” court case against government about the toxic and unsafe levels of air pollution that people living and working on the Mpumalanga Highveld are exposed to daily.

In her affidavit filed on behalf of all the government respondents, Minister Creecy denies that government is failing in its obligations to address the air pollution in the Mpumalanga Highveld, where 12 of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, Sasol’s Secunda coal-to-liquids plant, significant coal mining operations, and other heavy industries are based. The mining, transport and burning of coal are responsible for the overwhelming majority of outdoor ambient air pollution in the Highveld.

Responding to Minister Creecy in her affidavit expressing sympathy for people living and working in the Highveld Priority Area, groundWork’s Thomas Mnguni, also a Highveld resident and a concerned parent, says in his affidavit: “It is not the Minister’s sympathy that we need, but rather the urgent and proper implementation and enforcement of air quality laws in a manner that protects our health. It does not help for government officials to tell pollution-trapped communities that they care, they need to show us through their actions. Responsible government officials must be accountable.

groundWork and VEJMA are asking the court to declare that the poor ambient air quality in the Highveld Priority Area constitutes a violation of the Constitutional right to an environment not harmful to health or well-being, as clearly outlined in Section 24 of the Constitution. They are also asking the court to order the government to take further steps to improve the air quality in the area. The applicants are represented by attorneys at the Centre for Environmental Rights.

You can read the full media release here.

On International Waste Pickers’ Day, Report Shows that Cities that Partner with Informal Recyclers Create Good Jobs, Help the Climate, and Save Money

Working with Waste Pickers is Essential to an Inclusive Economic Recovery

SAWPA members conducting door to door waste collection in Vaal Park, South Africa.

SAWPA members conducting door to door waste collection in Vaal Park, South Africa. Photo Credit: Focalize Media

01 March 2021 - The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about devastating economic turmoil across the globe. Consequently, the agendas of many governments are currently centered on economic recovery, job creation, and poverty alleviation. A new report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), shows how government investment into zero waste systems presents an opportunity for economic recovery and social justice.

The report highlights that through forging partnerships with informal recyclers using dedicated economic recovery funds, governments can make a transition to zero waste city systems. Based on research from countries in the global south such as South Africa, Brazil, India, and China, this report finds that inclusive zero-waste cities have led to greater economic justice for people doing essential work, cost-saving for cities and better environmental outcomes.

It also uncovers the extent to which informal recyclers have become the cornerstone of recycling in Global South cities. Statistics show that in South Africa, waste pickers recover between 80 to 90% of the post-consumption packaging and paper. In Brazil, the National Waste Pickers Movement (MNCR) is responsible for collecting 90% of all material recycled in the country. Moreover, in India it is estimated that waste pickers recycle 54% of all recycled glass, 34-45% of all recycled plastic, and 28-50% of all recycled cardboard and mixed paper.

Read the full media release and download the report here.

Chasing Carbon Unicorns: The deception of carbon markets and "net zero"

22 February 2021 - Powerful actors are using “net zero” pledges to hide their climate inaction. Stopping the climate crisis requires us to stop burning fossil fuels – no magical thinking will solve this problem, just immediate action and system change. But transnational corporations and governments are hiding behind the “net” in “net zero” – claiming that they just need to pay someone else to remove carbon, through carbon offsetting, rather than taking action on their own.

This report unpacks the science behind “net zero” claims and how they are used to obscure climate inaction. It explores the new strategies to expand carbon offset markets, linked with new “net zero” demand for offsets. It also explains the roles played by various actors involved in the effort to “make offsetting great again”. These include less obvious players such as a few large mainstream conservation organisations, as well as the more obvious ones: the banks, the finance industry, and corporate interests behind maintaining the status quo of fossil fuel production and consumption.

 “Net zero” means that fossil fuel companies can continue to explore, drill, extract, and burn fossil fuels, while someone somewhere else sucks carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, magically balancing out emissions. But whose land, whose forests will be used to suck that carbon out? Fossil futures require carbon unicorns. 

The area of land required to sequester just 2 Gt CO2 through ecosystem restoration is estimated at 678 million hectares – about twice the land area of the country of India. Communities in the global south are already facing huge land and resource grabs, loss of livelihoods, and violations of their territorial rights. 

“Net zero” targets need to be transformed into Real Zero targets, including a complete phase-out of fossil fuels and industrial agriculture, keeping equity in mind, and support for rights for communities whose livelihoods are dependent on those ecosystems.

Download the full report here.

Gauteng residents given a whiff of Mpumalanga Highveld pollution

Image by: Daylin Paul

18 February 2021 - Over the past few days, unusual and persistent levels of sulphurous smells in the air have given residents of Gauteng a glimpse of what life is like for people who live in some of our country’s most polluted places on the Mpumalanga Highveld – one of the South Africa’s worst air pollution hotspots.

On Saturday, 13 February 2021, Gauteng Weather started reporting on the strong sulphur smell in Gauteng, and noted that southeasterly winds pointed in the direction of Mpumalanga as the source. Many residents of Gauteng noted complaints of breathing problems, burning eyes, blocked noses and bad chests on social media.

By Wednesday, the South African Weather Service issued an alert advising that air quality was “unhealthy” for sensitive groups, including children, the elderly, asthmatics, people with lung and heart disease.

According to air quality expert Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, the rotten egg smell is a strong indicator that the pollutant in question is hydrogen sulphide, or H2S.

Sasol’s Synfuels facility in Secunda, Mpumalanga, is the main source of H2S in Mpumalanga.

Read the full media release here.

SAHRC Releases Final Report of the Gauteng Provincial Inquiry into the Sewage Problem of the Vaal River

17 February 2021 - The South African Human Rights Commission has today released its investigative report on the contamination of the Vaal River.

Samson Mokoena, the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) Coordinator, commented on the report as follow:

As VEJA we welcome the report, it confirms the issues we have been raising especially relating to section 24 of the constitution. The report  confirms that the South African government has violated our rights. The state has not taken any action to solve this issue, and the report has confirmed today that law and regulation enforcement mechanisms are failing. By allowing sewage to flow in the Vaal River the government is also going against its international obligations as per UN assembly resolution of 2010, that water is a human right, the report was able to highlight that. The contamination of the Vaal River negatively impacts the environment, the well-being and also dignity of our people.

You can read the full report here.

New Study: Zero Waste Systems Could Create Thousands of Jobs for Durban Residents

Zero Waste Found to Be a Key Strategy to Build Strong, Sustainable Economies Post-COVID-19

16 February 2021 - A new study from GAIA finds that cities that invest in zero waste programs and policies create good green jobs, in addition to known benefits of reducing pollution and improving community health. This report comes as municipal governments worldwide are making critical decisions about which programs to invest in to increase climate resilience and rebuild local economies that have been damaged by the COVID-19 crisis. The study projects that if Durban were to recover 80% of recyclable and organic material in its waste stream, the city could create over 4,000 new jobs.

Read the full media release and get the report here.

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Statement on environmental MEC’s decision to exclude properties from the Mabola Protected Environment to enable a new coal mine

15 February 2021 - We, a coalition of eight non-profit public interest organisations, have been challenging the authorisation of a large new coal mine inside a declared Protected Area and Strategic Water Source Area in Mpumalanga since 2015.

We condemn the recent decision by MEC VR Shongwe, the Mpumalanga MEC for Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs, to revoke the protected area status for a large part of the Mabola Protected Environment in order to enable that new coal mine to proceed.

Read the full statement here.

Supreme Court of Appeal Ruling on Tendele to be Appealed in Constitutional Court

15 February 2021 - On Tuesday, 9 February 2021, the Supreme Court of Appeal, in a majority decision, dismissed an appeal calling for Tendele coal mine to comply with environmental legislation. The case raises an important point of law where there is currently uncertainty leaving loopholes that require a legal precedent to bring clarity.

Kirsten Youens, the Attorney for the Global Environmental Trust (GET) and Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), described the majority judgement as “focussed on procedure over justice that does not deal with the issues, whereas the dissenting judgement by Shippers JA is excellent and exactly what we need to take the matter on appeal to the Constitutional Court.”

Advocates Thembeka Ngcukaitobi and Mawande Mazibuko acted for the appellants in the SCA case. They consider the matter too important to environmental law jurisprudence for it to be decided purely on procedural law. They are already preparing to take the case to the Constitutional Court. This course of action appears to have the support of Judge Shippers whose judgement emphasizes protection of the natural environment, as in this reference to the Fuel Retailers case, where the Constitutional Court states:

"The role of the courts is especially important in the context of the protection of the environment and giving effect to the principle of sustainable development. The importance of the protection of the environment cannot be gainsaid. Its protection is vital to the enjoyment of the other rights contained in the Bill of Rights; indeed, it is vital to life itself."

The Tendele open cast coal mine is situated on the border of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park, Africa’s oldest proclaimed nature reserve with the highest density of white rhino in the world. The appeal was brought by GET, a not-for-profit organisation established to preserve biodiversity and protect natural resources, and by MCEJO, a community-based organisation that supports the implementation of environmentally sustainable projects for communities living along the Mfolozi river in northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The application was supported by thousands of MCEJO members from neighbouring local communities.

SAHRC vs uMsunduzi: Municipality in High Court for failing to clean up

Pietermaritzburg dumpsite ablaze

15 February 2021  - The case filed by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) against the uMsunduzi municipality over its management of the New England Road Landfill site in Pietermaritzburg is being heard in the high court today.

The case was filed in the high court by the SAHRC after its investigation on the matter, and consultations with different stakeholders including, groundWork, Ratepayers Association, Save PMB, affected communities and residents. Post its investigations the SAHRC red-flagged the state of the site and its impact on the environment and on public health. 

The landfill is known for its fires that flame for days, and engulf the city with smoke, forcing schools to shut down and some residents to evacuate their homes due to the toxic smoke. In April last year the fires went on for more than three days. The SAHRC subsequently received a number of complaints from Pietermaritzburg residents, and a protest was held near the site with a petition against the dump which was also handed over to the commission.

Read the full media release here.

Coalition condemns MEC’s decision to revoke protected area to allow new coal mine

Water heritage under threat Mabola Protected Environment, Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga, faces potentially catastrophic threats from a new coal mine. One of only 22 Strategic Water Source Areas in the country, it is composed mostly of wetlands, pans and endangered grassland ecosystems that support endangered species and the provision of clean water. The mine is set to cause irreversible damage to the sensitive and critically important aquatic environment. Picture: JAMES OATWAY for CER.

Water heritage under threat Mabola Protected Environment, Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga, faces potentially catastrophic threats from a new coal mine. One of only 22 Strategic Water Source Areas in the country, it is composed mostly of wetlands, pans and endangered grassland ecosystems that support endangered species and the provision of clean water. The mine is set to cause irreversible damage to the sensitive and critically important aquatic environment. Picture: JAMES OATWAY for CER.

11 February 2021 - Last month, the Mpumalanga Provincial MEC for Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs, MEC VR Shongwe, published his decision to revoke the protected area status for a large part of the Mabola Protected Environment in Mpumalanga in order to enable a controversial new coal mine to proceed.

The Coalition of eight public interest organisations who have, since 2015, been challenging the development of that proposed new coal mine, have condemned the MEC’s decision. The proposed mine would also fall inside a Strategic Water Source Area.

The MEC’s decision comes after the Coalition successfully challenged in court the permission previously given for the mine by the former Ministers of Environmental Affairs and Minerals, the late Edna Molewa and Mosebenzi Zwane.

The Coalition’s court challenge resulted in the High Court setting aside those permissions as unlawful and awarding punitive costs against the MEC and the Ministers. The court found that there was no justification for their lack of transparency, and departure from procedures required by law. Four attempts by the mining company to challenge the High Court decision failed, with a full bench of the High Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), the President of the SCA, and ultimately the Constitutional Court, leaving the Coalition’s judgment intact.

Now, in an apparent attempt to circumvent those judgments and the Protected Areas Act itself, the MEC has revoked protection for a large portion of the protected environment to push through a new coal mine inside Mabola.

Read the full media release here.

141 NGOs Call for a Moratorium on Large-Scale Mining and Oil and Gas Extraction in Greenland

10 February 2021 - In an appeal published today, 141 NGOs from all over the world call on the Greenlandic and Danish governments and the European Union to help protect the Greenlandic and Arctic environment. Greenland possesses some of the world’s largest oil and gas and mineral reserves. Thus far, there are about 70 active large-scale exploration and exploitation licenses in Greenland, covering thousands of square kilometres. Almost all are surface mining projects, often at high altitude.

The 141 NGOs call on the Greenlandic and Danish governments, the European Union, and everybody else who take an interest, to help establish an Arctic sanctuary. The inspiration could be the Antarctic Treaty, as supplemented by the Madrid Protocol signed in 1991, but respecting the fundamental difference represented by the populated nature of Greenland and the Arctic and the rights and needs of the peoples and nations of the Arctic region.

You can read the full media release and annexures here.

Fossil fuel air pollution responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide – major study

Deaths from fossil fuel emissions higher than previously thought

09 February 2021 - More than 8 million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution, significantly higher than previous research suggested, meaning that air pollution from burning fossil fuels like coal and diesel was responsible for about 1 in 5 deaths worldwide, according to new research from Harvard University, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London.

Regions with the highest concentrations of fossil fuel-related air pollution — including Eastern North America, Europe, and South-East Asia — have the highest rates of mortality, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Research.

The study greatly increases estimates of the numbers killed by air pollution. The most recent Global Burden of Disease Study, the largest and most comprehensive study on the causes of global mortality, put the total number of global deaths from all outdoor airborne particulate matter — including dust and smoke from wildfires and agricultural burns — at 4.2 million. 

Read the full media release and find links to the report here.

Resist Nuclear Procurement!

05 February 2021 - In December 2020, energy Minister Gwede Mantashe issued a determination to commence the process to procure the new nuclear energy generation capacity of 2 500 MW as per decision 8 of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2019.

This is a folly in groundWork's view, not only a piece of foolishness, but an extravagance built for appearance or status. groundWork has today submitted comment to the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) setting out our reasons for opposing any new nuclear construction. They include: the environmental destruction done in the mining and processing of uranium and in the energy intensive fuel fabrication process; the lack of any feasible plan to deal with high level nuclear waste; the exorbitant cost of the nuclear build and again of decommissioning at the end of the plant's life; the high likelihood of cost and time overruns; the scope for corruption and/or geo-political leverage by national peddlers of nuclear power; the anti-democratic requirements for secrecy and high level security.

Read the groundWork submission to NERSA here.

The activists who are greening Wesselton

26 November 2020: From left, Linda Magagula and Simon Nkosi tend to a crop of spinach on Magagula's plot in the Nomzamo agricultural village in Wesselton. Nomzamo was established on a portion of the unrehabilitated Imbabala coal mine. Photo: James Puttick.

01 February 2021 - Residents of this township in one of Mpumalanga's coal-mining districts have been benefitting from grassroots initiatives to turn ugly dumping sites into precious green spaces.

For 20 years now, the members of the Khuthala Environmental Care Group in Wesselton, Ermelo, have tried to address the persistent environmental damage left by the coal mines as well as residents who dump their garbage irresponsibly. In doing so, they have transformed what would have been toxic spaces into sites of pride and beauty.

The group's passion for a greener future has led to giant gains for Wesselton township, which is hemmed in by abandoned and unrehabilitated coal mines.

Read the full story on New Frame (online) here.

New Year Message from groundWork Director, Bobby Peek.

How does one approach 2021?  Writing about our fears or predictions? Or seeking hope?  I finally settled on the latter.  I am not qualified to make predictions; there are many out there who are more informed.  But like millions of others who want a more sustainable existence with the earth, I am hopeful that ongoing activism worldwide can slowly chip away at the chains of power and greed.

As Pablo Solón, Bolivian activist and ex-diplomat, put it, “2020 wasn’t the worst year, it was just one of the beginnings of the systemic crisis.  Hope is not in the year that begins but, in our ability, to change and subvert the ‘normality’ that brought us here. The year 2020 brought to the fore with clarity the reality that system change is needed".  Like Solón, my hope lies in our ability to change and subvert the old normal, and start creating a new normal, and we do this first by stopping the foolishness of the past, and through this, create the justice for the future.

Read the full text of the message here.

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