A Cheap Shot and Very Bad Attempt at Blame Shifting

By Desmond D’Sa - 22 June 2020

South African Petrochemical giant Sasol is well known for their negligence and environmental abuse revealed their hypocrisy last week when they released a baseline assessment report of understanding the challenges around waste pollution at the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, specifically in the Amanzimtoti and Umbogintwini river.

Their report revealed that the main contributors to plastic waste pollution within the study area to be inadequate and ineffective waste management in communities, lack of environmental education within schools and among communities, a lack of the general public’s contribution to clean-ups and litter booms and traps in various locations along the rivers.

To be polite, this is alarming given the fact that Sasol fails to recall that in 2018 their venture NATCOS which runs a storage facility in Isipingo had one of the biggest crude oil spills in the South Durban area in 2001 when SAPREF’s pipeline leaked millions of liters on the Bluff and Wentworth. Sasol’s oil entered the Isipingo Canal and the Isipingo lagoon, killing many species of marine life. NATCOS have had many crude oil leaks due to a lack of maintenance which has often been denied. Local health officials were informed and they contacted the management which resulted in the storage tanks been refurbished.

Sasol has a history of environmental degradation in the South coast and South Durban area. In 2000 the Sasol Chrome plant repeatedly gassed out learners and educators from the local schools and affected their health badly, as a result it was shutdown. It took a huge outcry from the local community and school management for the government to shut down the plant. Initial complaints from local communities about the constant gas smells which affected residents was ignored.

Sasol Fibers, a plant in Prospecton, South Durban that manufactured acrylic fiber use to release solvents, acrylonitrile and other nasty chemicals used in their production line into the surrounding canals that eventually flowed into the Indian Ocean at Isipingo beach. Eventually in 2002 after pressure from the workers who suffered hip replacements, respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular problems and surrounding communities, SASOL shut the plant and it was sold to overseas interest.    
We wish to tell you that Sasol operations in Lake Charles, USA are different, but even there they have maintained their infamous reputation, denying the local African American community their right to access graveyards of their families. The communities were also not given a fair price for relocation and more recently the remaining residents were gassed out and their health was affected. Not forgetting Secunda which has Sasol’s coal to liquid plant which has the distinction of being the single largest point-source of CO2 emissions on earth.

In all their cases Sasol has denied any wrongdoing and has the support of the South African and USA government hiding behind loopholes in the legislation not to comply.  Sasol’s recent forage of trying to get authorization for the offshore oil and gas exploration which will ultimately destroy our marine resources and negatively affect the thousands of people who rely on the ocean for an income, like the subsistence fishers and the tourism and recreational industries.

Sasol was built by the apartheid government and handed to white monopoly capital to enrich themselves. The company has a history of oppression of black labour, destroying the environment and affecting the health of communities in South Africa, and now wants to give us solutions that suit them.

Sasol’s latest sponsored study is another example of the company wanting to continue the legacy of keeping the dying fossil fuel industry alive by pushing the recycling button and caring for the marine resources when we should be stopping the petrochemical production line for good. Their report is a cheap short and a very bad attempt at blame shifting. Our planet is calling for the end of the fossil fuel dynasty so the climate gets the necessary relief.

Any new investment into new fossil fuel projects given what we know must be understood as an investment into the death of our children and their children. If Sasol is serious as a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Marine Waste Network, it should relinquish all production that creates plastic waste that kills our marine resources and affected the health of society.

You can view the original press clipping here.

Desmond D’Sa is from groundWork partner the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
This article appeared in the Cape Times, Pretoria News, and The Mercury.