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Virtual Launch of Documentary "Voices from under a Dark Cloud: Towards a Just Transition in the Coalfields of South Africa".

21 June 2022

South Africa has initiated the transition to a more sustainable development pathway that involves moving towards a low-carbon economy.  At the same time, South Africa still faces a number of developmental challenges related to poverty, unemployment and inequality, and the climate crisis further threatens vulnerable communities and people. The need for a just transition to a low-carbon economy has emerged as an imperative to ensure the poor and vulnerable are not negatively impacted by the transition and are ideally better off through it.

In Mpumalanga, these challenges are exacerbated by the high reliance on coal-based economic activities, service delivery challenges, and environmental impacts from land, air, and water pollution. These challenges have resulted in poor health, death and destruction to people, the communities, and the environment. Encouragingly, in the transition process, many solutions are beginning to emerge that can help regions like Mpumalanga pivot towards more sustainable industries.

Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), the National Labour and Economic Development Institute (NALEDI), groundWork and Peta Wolpe are engaged as a consortium in a project which aims to facilitate and co-develop a coherent just transition plan for affected communities in Emalahleni and Steve Tshwete in Mpumalanga. In 2021, the consortium produced a documentary to highlight and capture some of the issues, opportunities, and challenges that the affected communities in Mpumalanga face as coal is phased out and we enter a new era. The documentary, entitled “Voices from under a dark cloud – towards a just transition in the coalfields of South Africa”, builds on a series of webinars and local engagements held over the last 18 months to provide a platform for affected communities to have their voices heard.

To see the full programme for the event which takes place from 15h00 to 17h00 on 21 June 2022 and to register to join this event please click here.

Community Protest: Dirty Steel Giant AMSA Fails to Clean Up

9 JUNE 2022

Long suffering communities of Sharpeville and Bophelong have gathered outside ArcelorMittal South Africa Ltd’s (AMSA’s) main plant in Vanderbijlpark to protest against ongoing pollution, non-compliance, failure to engage meaningfully with fenceline communities and unclear plans to decarbonise its operations.

The protest follows AMSA’s annual shareholders meeting held on 19th May 2022, community groups were refused permission to protest at the time of the AGM due to the 2-week long AMSA worker strike led by the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) over inadequate wages.  Despite AMSA’s revenue being two-thirds higher than in 2020, it reduced its environmental spend from R151 million to R64 million in the last financial year. This is a worrying trend given AMSA’s history of pollution and environmental non-compliance.  

Shareholder activists from VEJA (Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance), groundWork and the Centre for Environmental Rights attended the AGM to ask questions related to AMSA’s ongoing environmental non-compliance, including soil and water contamination as well as air pollution; lack of meaningful community engagement; and its insufficient and opaque climate commitments.  The AGM was held on a virtual platform and shareholders were limited to asking written questions with no opportunity for follow up on the vague and dismissive answers provided by the outgoing chairman of the board, Mpho Makwana.

Read the full media release here.

Climate Change Bill: CER calls for public hearings

06 June 2022

September 2021 #ClimateStrike,  Cape Town

September 2021 #ClimateStrike, Cape Town | Photo: Chris De Beer-Procter

Climate change, and the Climate Change Bill, will profoundly impact all corners of society and the economy, and it is important that all voices are heard in the shaping of this critically important law – especially the voices of youth and of women who are particularly exposed to the impacts of climate change.

On 27 May 2022, the CER, on behalf of the Life After Coal Campaign, addressed a written submission on the Climate Change Bill to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. The committee had issued a call for public comments on the Bill in April, an invitation that appears to have been taken up by a multitude of civil society role players and individuals, both within the climate justice space and beyond.

The CER submission addresses various fundamental concerns about the Bill, including its lack of clear and meaningful emissions reduction targets, an overall lack of urgency and a failure to adequately ensure that all of the necessary organs of state are empowered and adequately mandated to play their roles in the necessary climate change response measures envisaged. The Bill also fails put in place a clear, strong, and enforceable mechanism to compel emissions reduction. The Bill ultimately needs to protect a number of important Constitutional rights which will be infringed if South Africa’s climate response is inadequate.

The committee now has the discretion to call for public hearings, a next step that CER and others are strongly calling for.

“A strong, clear and effective Climate Change Act will go a long way to achieving one of its primary stated goals: ensuring a just transition to a resilient, low carbon economy and society. The Bill as it currently stands does not do this, and we urge the committee to address our concerns and make the necessary amendments,” says CER climate advocacy lawyer, Brandon Abdinor.

For further information and resources, please click here.

United community of Fuleni successfully blocks another potential coal mining operation in the area.

02 June 2022

Hell has no fury like the Fuleni community members who are opposing coal mines. On 15th May 2022, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) again sent packing another mining company, Imvukuzane (Pty) Ltd, during a community meeting in Ocilwane, one of the six villages in Fuleni.

Imvukuzane had come to give a presentation about their project to the Fuleni community and traditional council, and to apologise for having displayed mining notices in the Fuleni villages in April 2022 – without first having obtained permission from the local leadership. The notices instilled fear but also infuriated community members, who suspected that the mine was being disrespectful to local people. Imvukuzane was aiming to apologise to each village and each of the indunas.

Read the full media release here.

Diverting Organic Waste from Landfill: Learning from Cities in the Global South

31st May 2022

(10-11:30am Accra; 12-1:30pm South Africa; 1-3:30pm Tanzania; 3:30-5pm Pune)

Organic waste, particularly in Global South contexts, constitutes the largest bulk of municipal solid waste going to landfill. Landfills are one of the main sources of anthropogenic methane emissions globally, a greenhouse gas responsible for about half of the warming we experience today. Sending organic waste to landfill also makes little economic sense as alternative ways of managing this waste (e.g. composting, bio digestion, and black soldier fly farming) have the potential to both generate income and create employment opportunities.

In addition to the positive environmental spin offs, diverting organic waste saves municipalities money through reduced transportation costs to landfill, reduced service fees for transporting waste, and landfill space savings.

Click here for full details and registration.

Africa Day 2022 - Africa you are on your own.

25 May 2022

groundWork Director Bobby Peek

Today we celebrate Africa Day.  A day where Africa’s strength and connection to the world is considered.  But the world in which Africa operates is not just.  At a time where we need to consider the past inhumanity of colonialism and neo-colonialism, and forge a united future where we can all live in solidarity and equity with each other the opposite is in motion. 

This past weekend, Durban my hometown on the east coast of South Africa was besieged by flooding for the second time in two months. The April 2022 floods resulted in the deaths of 443 people and even today, 22nd May, more than fifty people are missing. Families have given up hope of finding their loved ones.

The floods touched us not only as activists, but also in our personal lives as many of us experienced what our fellow Africans experience now close to an annual reality of flooding and lost loved ones.  Friends in Mozambique, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the other parts of this planet called home, we now understand your pain and suffering.

To begin reflection on African Day within the context of solidarity and climate justice, let us reflect on recent global events, especially those emerging out of Europe that undermines any promises of solidarity and any hope of a just transition. The brutality and overtness of colonialism and neo-colonialism has been replaced by sophistication and stealth.

Read the full opinion piece by goundWork Director, Bobby Peek, here.

Environmental justice groups launch legal review of Phinda gas to power plant

23 May 2022

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa (gW), represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), have approached the Pretoria High Court to review and set aside an environmental authorisation granted for Phinda Power’s proposed 320MW gas-to-power plant, proposed for the Richard’s Bay Industrial Development Zone (IDZ). 

This latest challenge to proposed gas-to-power projects in Richards Bay comes after the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment dismissed groundWork’s appeal against the decision to grant environmental authorisation for the Phinda Power project in November 2021. 

The call for review by groundWork and SDCEA argues that the original environmental impact assessment (EIA) failed to consider all feasible and reasonable alternatives and that the Minister’s reliance on the inclusion of gas power in the Integrated Resource Plan 2019 (IRP 2019) does not exclude the consideration of alternatives, as required under NEMA and EIA regulations. 

This is the third judicial review application brought by groundWork and SDCEA against the Minister’s decision to uphold environmental authorisations for proposed gas to power projects.

On 11 May 2022, the groups also launched legal proceedings to set aside an amendment to the environmental approval for another gas to power plant, RB2, in Richards Bay. 

Read the full media release here.

Activists push dirty steel giant ArcelorMittal SA to stop pollution and accelerate transition to green steel


19 May 2022

ArcelorMittal South Africa Ltd (AMSA) remains South Africa’sthird worst greenhouse gas emitter, responsible for about 3% of the country’s emissions. The steelmaker has a long history of toxic air pollution, land and water contamination and a dismal record of engagement with communities and workers affected by the company’s violations. VEJA representing communities in the Vaal with support from the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) will pose questions to the AMSA board and management during the company’s 2022 annual general meeting (AGM) on Thursday 19th May 2022.

While environmental justice groups recognise the publication of AMSA’s first Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) report as being an important step forward, the report fails to provide sufficient detail on its ability to meaningfully realise key commitments. In particular, the steelmaker’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030 and to reach net-zero by 2050 are simply too vague.

The ArcelorMittal Group, based in Luxembourg, has revised its climate commitments in respect of its European operations, making bolder commitments to a 35% emissions intensity reduction by 2030. Here in South Africa, however, AMSA’s climate commitments are lacklustre at best, and the steelmaker has not indicated why it is unable to improve on these commitments. Critically, the company has not indicated how it plans to finance even their mediocre commitments.

Read the full media release here.

Durban Communities Stand Together Against Oil and Gas Exploration along the SA Coast

18 May 2022

Did you know that the government, through operation Phakisa, aims to drill 30 exploration wells along our coastline!  Did you know at the end of May the Shell case will be heard in court again for a ruling?  We need to make our voices heard!

On the 21st of May 2022, The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) is hosting a march to highlight the impacts of oil and gas exploration by companies such as, Total and Shell, along our coastline that affect our oceans, marine life, livelihoods, and wellness.  The march will also protest the current restrictions faced by fisherfolk along the coastline.

SDCEA is calling all ocean lovers, fisherfolk, surfers, traditional healers, youth, etc., to join them in Durban, outside Suncoast Casino beach on the promenade, as the starting point for an awareness march to the amphitheatre, where a memorandum will be handed over to the Department of Minerals, Resources and Energy (DMRE).

Departure Date of the event: 21 May 2022
Meeting Point: Suncoast Beach on the Promenade
Number of people: 500
Time: 08:30 – 10:00 am
For more info call 0314681257 or 0839826939 or email cassandra@sdceango.co.za
#fishnotoil #saveourcoast #theoceanbelongstousall #durban #sdcea

Opportunity to join the Grants Committee of the Environmental Justice Fund!

18 May 2022

The Environmental Justice Fund (EJF) is a new organisation which aims to strengthen the environmental justice movement in South Africa. We believe that supporting those most affected by environmental injustice, to design and implement responses, is our best chance of reversing the tide of environmental destruction and building a better, sustainable, and just world. To assist environmental activists to do their work, EJF provides financial, capacity-building and networking support to community-based organisations and community networks working to advance environmental justice in South Africa.

This is a voluntary, unpaid position (although any necessary travel costs will be covered). We anticipate that the Grants Committee will need to meet – either online or in person – approximately four times a year. Members of the Grants Committee will serve for a term of two years with the possibility of renewal. The closing date for applications is 15 June 2022.

Please click here for full details.

Environmental justice groups challenge gas plant approval, urge government to heed climate risks of gas

11 May 2022

In light of the serious climate change impacts that the project will have and the absence of any assessment of these impacts, environmental justice groups groundWork (gW) and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) - represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) - are challenging the amendment of an environmental authorisation for a gas to power plant in the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone (IDZ).

Environmental justice groups gW and SDCEA, represented by CER, have approached the Pretoria High Court to challenge the reissued environmental authorisation granted to another proposed gas to power station in the Richards Bay IDZ, Richards Bay Gas to Power 2 (RB2).

This is a 400-MW gas to power plant which received an environmental authorisation in 2016 for a closed cycle gas turbine with a condition that the activity commence within five years of authorisation. Dormant for years, the project resurfaced in December 2020 with an application to amend the timeline, the technology, and the fuel use of the plant - through an environmental authorisation amendment process.

Read the full media release here.

Another climate court victory for coal polluted Highveld area

17 May 2021: NGO's, civil society and concerned citizens from affected areas protest outside the Pretoria High Court at the commencement of the Deadly Air hearings regarding the poor air quality in the Highveld Priority Area. Photograph by Daylin Paul

09 May 2022

On 3 May 2022, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria confirmed that the environmental authorisation for the planned 600MW KiPower coal-fired power station had expired.

KiPower would have been built outside Emalahleni in Mpumalanga, which is already plagued by toxic air pollution from twelve of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, Sasol’s coal-to-liquids plant in Secunda and the NatRef refinery in Sasolburg.

Without a valid environmental authorisation, the planned power station cannot be built, or meet requirements for any future procurement of coal electricity.

The final court order was the result of the settlement of a court application brought by environmental justice group groundWork, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, in 2017. groundWork had asked the court to review and set aside the decision of the then Department of Environmental Affairs to grant environmental authorisation to Kuyasa Mining (Pty) Ltd for the proposed KiPower Coal-fired power station. In 2021, the parties agreed to settle the case on the basis that the environmental authorisation had expired.

Read the full media release here.

Latest groundWork Newsletter released

05 May 2022

The March 2022 groundWork Newsletter has been released and is available to read by clicking on the link below. Topics covered in this issue include:

    cover of March 2022 Newsletter
  • Simon Mbata: the waste picker pioneer who had dinner with the Pope
  • Waste picker issues gaining traction
  • Warwick Zero Waste Project looking into 2022
  • Procurement power
  • Climate crisis crisis
  • Engagement initiative by mining-affected communities
  • Meet Tsholofelo
  • UMI Energy Democracy
  • JUNEA 5 – pushing for a global treaty on plastic
  • Bad breath in Glasgow
  • Memorandum from ex-Thor Chemicals employees
  • Mine closure and what it means to communities
  • Virtual toxic tours

Read the Newsletter here.

Life After Coal Campaign submission to the Presidential Climate Commission on the Just Transition Framework

29 April 2022

Download the submission here.

groundWork’s 2022 environmental justice school kicks off on Earth Day 2022

EJS activists in the making

22 April 2022

Today activists from several community based environmental justice organisations are gathering at Vuleka Centre near Durban for three weeks. From the 22 April to the 14 May.  This School aims at strengthening grassroots organisers to bring about a just transition.

This is groundWork’s sixth Environmental Justice School which is drawing twenty activists from as far afield as Sekukuneland, the Highveld Mpumalanga, the Vaal, Newcastle, Mamelodi, Pietermaritzburg, and south Durban.  In the past 7 years that the school has been running, over 100 students from 7 countries have participated.

groundWork’s vision is one of a Just Transition and Open Democracy and these ideas are threaded through the school. The invited presenters are experts in their fields, and groundWork campaigners work with them to develop activists’ knowledge.

Director, Bobby Peek, remarked on how groundWork’s Environmental Justice schools in previous years have seen the participants return home and undertake unexpected and bold actions. He says, “They draw on their knowledge to challenge those in power from a more informed basis. Others have started new environmental justice organisations. Others have started their own Schools.  It’s very encouraging to see how they take the struggle forward and build the environmental justice movement.”

Read the full media release here

EMALAHLENI – Installation of rooftop solar PV, demonstrating the multiple benefits of renewable energy in our communities.

 Workers installing solar PV rooftop in eMalahleni. Image - Chris Louw

Workers installing solar PV rooftop in eMalahleni. Image - Chris Louw

21 April 2022

Movement building – a key aim of the Urban Movement Incubator Energy Democracy (UMI ED) project has been achieved. This involved an inclusive and meaningful process of learning and knowledge sharing through informative dialogues and workshops demonstrating that a transition from coal generated electricity to renewable energy is possible in low-income communities. Off-grid rooftop solar PV technology is being installed at the community-based organization Vukani Environmental Movement (VEM) Center, with the aim of understanding and learning how the technology generates electricity from the sun to meet energy needs.

VEM is located in the highveld area of Mpumalanga Province, home to 12 of Eskom’s extremely polluting coal-fired power plants. “There is sickness in our community, electricity is expensive, there is no ownership, it is unreliable because there is load shedding at any time and sometimes for many days,” are the stark and serious sentiments shared by a local community member at Emalahleni. With one of the goals of the project being to advocate for a just transition, it is imperative that community knowledge and social power is strengthened to engage meaningfully with key stakeholders such as local government. 

Read the full media release here.

Documentary Launch: “Voices from under a dark cloud – towards a just transition in the coalfields of South Africa” in Steve Tshwete Municipality

20 April 2022

Hundreds of Mpumalanga residents from across the province welcomed the launch of a documentary in Steve Tshwete last week which casts a spotlight on what a transition away from coal means in reality for the affected communities and the future of the province.  This included community members, environmental activists, local business organisations and workers.

In his opening at the launch of “Voices from under a dark cloud – towards a just transition in the coalfields of South Africa”, Mavuso Msimang, political veteran and public figure, called for urgent action and the need to be proactive in planning to avoid further hardships.

In highlighting the need for action and acknowledging that global warming was real, Msimang along with other speakers and community members indicated that this was not a time for figure pointing but it was a time now for everyone to work together to find solutions.  Finding solutions was not going to be easy and searching among alternatives was imperative that needed to be supported by appropriate planning.

The launch of the documentary forms part of a joint initiative by Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), the National Labour and Economic Institute (NALEDI), groundWork and Peta Wolpe who have been involved in a project engaging with local stakeholders from Steve Tshwete and Emalahleni, in Mpumalanga to progress the thinking and policy around the Just Transition in these municipalities. This initiative has been funded by the United Kingdom Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions (UK PACT) South Africa Programme. The production of the documentary was also supported by the European Union, through the Green Economy Coalition.

Read the full media release and find links to view the documentary here.

19 April 2022

Just Transition Event poster

Launch of documentary: Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), the National Labour & Economic Development Institute (NALEDI), groundWork and Peta Wolpe have produced a documentary to highlight and capture some of the issues and challenges faced by communities in Mpumalanga as coal is phased out. You are cordially invited to join the in-person launch of the documentary. It will be followed by a public conversation, led by Mavuso Msimang.

Click here for full details.

Government's move to appeal parts of High Court win risks delaying action on air pollution

12 April 2022

Environmental justice group groundWork and Mpumalanga community organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (Vukani), represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), note with disappointment Minister for the Environment, Barbara Creecy's decision to apply for leave to appeal some parts of the #DeadlyAir judgment. 

The judgment, handed down on 18 March 2022 in the Pretoria High Court, was a resounding victory for environmental justice in South Africa. In the judgment, Judge Colleen Collis recognised the poor air quality in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Highveld region as a breach of residents’ Constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being. The judgment also directed government to prepare and implement regulations to reduce air pollution - according to section 20 of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (AQA) - within 12 months of the order. 

Minister Creecy is not appealing the first part of the order that relates to the immediate realisation of Section 24 of the Constitution, but rather those that relate to the interpretation of Section 20 of the AQA. Importantly, the declaration of residents’ guaranteed right to a healthy environment still stands, and groundWork and Vukani will proceed to take action on this basis through their various community-based activities.  

Read the full media release here.

Community-led socially-owned renewable energy solutions - A learning process

The just transition is gaining significant political momentum but what does this mean for our communities? How can communities access clean energy? Is it realistic for communities to contract with independent power producers to access clean energy?

Workers installing rooftop solar PV  demonstration units at the SDCEA house in Durban. Image: Chris Louw

08 April 2022

After a series of workshops and dialogues with communities, the Urban Movement Incubator  Energy Democracy (UMI ED) learning process, coordinated by groundWork, has reached its pinnacle with the installation of rooftop solar PV  demonstration units.  The demonstration units will be installed at the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) located in Austerville and is intended for communities to learn and understand how community owned clean energy works.

The UMI ED project is key in enabling communities to change the dominant narrative around the current energy system and to give them the opportunity to voice their energy needs and map out the solutions they desire for their communities.  With the clean energy transition well underway, technologies like rooftop solar PV mean that energy can be generated within our local communities. Communities can now meaningfully directly engage with the government towards making this transition just.

The UMI Energy Democracy project is the first of its kind in South Africa and is conducted in a partnership with leading community-based and non-governmental organizations, namely SDCEA (South Durban Community Environmental Alliance), Vukani Environmental Movement (VEM), Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA).  The project aims to empower communities to engage effectively in the Just Transition process with key stakeholders, and to access clean, safe, reliable, and affordable energy through pursuing community-led socially owned renewable energy solutions.

Renewable experts “Energy Capital Solutions” have installed the first rooftop solar PV system at the SDCEA  office in Austerville.  The system will serve as a demonstration unit for the community to see, learn and get a better understanding of how electricity is generated from the sun (solar energy).  The community will have full access to the demonstration unit as it is a learning tool of how clean energy works.  From this solar PV system, people will get to witness first-hand the benefits of renewable energy.

The installation of the rooftop solar PV system will be complemented by a training workshop and  will focus on an in-depth explanation of the solar PV system (the solar panels, the inverters, and the battery), the system’s capacity (what it can power such as, phone chargers, laptops etc.), as well as the concept of a grid-tied system versus an off-grid system.  The workshop will also cover aspects of maintenance and how the system operates.  Above all, the information shared at the workshop will be conveyed in a simple and easy to understand format and translated to IsiZulu.

Click here for additional information and contact details.

South Africa: Killing of land rights defender Ayanda Ngila and targeting of Abahlali baseMjondolo

25 March 2022

On 8 March 2022, land rights defender and member of the grass-roots movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, Ayanda Ngila, was shot and killed by four armed men. At the time of the shooting, the human rights defender had been working on repairing an irrigation pipe in the eKhenana community garden. The gunmen fled the scene through the river. A suspect has been detained for questioning by the Cato police.

Ayanda Ngila was the deputy chairperson of Abahlali baseMjondolo in eKhenana community, an informal settlement near Durban. Abahlali baseMjondolo is a well established grass-roots movement that has been operating across South Africa for more than 20 years. The objective of the movement is to defend and protect the rights of people living in shacks including access to decent housing, services and education. The movement works to advance and promote the interests of the poor and marginalized. Due to their peaceful work in defence of human rights Abahlali baseMjondolo and its members have long been targeted by the local leaders of the political party ANC.

groundWork has worked with Abahlali BaseMjondolo since the early days as the Movement emerged from Kennedy Road, next to the eThekwini toxic waste dumpsite in Clare Estate. A real people-led democracy has always been the foundation of the Movement. This demand for a true democracy has resulted in movement members being targeted as they have sought to defend the human rights of the poor in South Africa.

You can read the media release and call to action by Front Line Defenders here.

Presidential Climate Commission: Durban communities speak of petrochemical toxic legacy

Desmond D’Sa speaking during Presidential Climate Commission public consultations in Durban. Image: Lunga Bhengu

23 March 2022

The corporations that have polluted south Durban cannot be allowed to just cut and run. In its first meeting with a community affected by the petrochemical industries, the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) was told that the big refineries, Engen owned by Petronas and SAPREF owned by BP and Shell, have both shut down. So south Durban is in transition but it is not a just transition.

The refinery shut down has cut the air pollution, but there remains a legacy of health impacts on the people of the community that stretches across four generations. These impacts start with the unborn child. Professor Rajen Naidoo at Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of KwaZulu Natal told the commission that when mothers are polluted, their unborn child is already affected as genetic changes take place in uterus. That child is then vulnerable for life and many do not develop as they should. And once they are born, they are immediately affected by the direct impact of the pollution. Children are frequently sick, frequently miss school and then cannot get work. So the cycle of poverty is reproduced.

Apartheid divided the people, said Des D’Sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA). But pollution knows no boundaries and the struggle for a clean environment has brought them together. They are now calling for justice in the transition.

You can read the full media release here.

Presidential Climate Commission Public Consultations: Just Transition Framework - Durban

22 March 2022

PCC logoAs part of the ongoing stakeholder engagements under the Just Transition Framework, the Presidential Climate Commission will hold its public consultation session in Durban as follows:

Date: 23 March 2021
Times: 09h00 – 15h00
Venue: Austerville Civic Centre, 6 Percy Johnson Road, Austerville, Durban, 4052

The official invitation letter to stakeholders, as well as the draft agenda and Consultation Framework can be downloaded/viewed using the links below. The venues and dates for other regional PCC Consultation sessions can also be found below.

Major court victory for communities fighting air pollution in Mpumalanga Highveld

Toxic air protest

Dirty Air protest. Image by Daylin Paul

18 March 2022

Today environmental justice groups celebrate a landmark judgment in the #DeadlyAir case as a victory for environmental justice in South Africa with far-reaching consequences. In the judgment, the High Court has recognised the poor air quality in South Africa's Mpumalanga Highveld region as a breach of residents’ Constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being. 

The judgment, which recognises air pollution as a violation of Constitutional rights, is a major victory for environmental justice groups groundWork and Mpumalanga community organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (Vukani). The groups, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) as attorneys, first launched the landmark #DeadlyAir litigation in 2019, demanding that government clean up the toxic air in the Mpumalanga Highveld.  

You can read the full media release here.

Renewable Energy Study Released

14 March 2022

Just Transitions in the Renewable Energy Sector: An Environmental Lifecycle Perspective Study

On 9th March 2022, The Green House (TGH) released and presented a research study document, The Policy and Legal Elements for a Life Cycle Perspective to Support a Just Transition of the Energy Sector to Renewables, with programme partners groundWork and Earth Life Africa as the final part of a five year Just Energy Transition Exchange Programme funded by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC).

Global warming and fossil fuel depletion, as well as the goal to provide universal energy access, increasingly place the development of sustainable just energy systems at the top of political agendas around the world. The future will most likely mainly be powered by renewable energy sources. However, in order for the energy transition to be economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable and just, it calls for a rethinking of how the energy sector should be organised, financed, and which materials and technologies should be promoted. These considerations entail how the raw materials for the energy producing devices are acquired and processed, associated environmental impacts, working conditions, maintenance of the technologies, and how the waste from the energy producing devices is handled.

You can read the full media release and download relevant documents here.

Presidential Climate Commission's first community consultation in eMalahleni

07 March 2022

Community people living next to coal mines and power stations expressed their daily suffering from the impacts of air pollution. Many of them suffer from poor health and are concerned for the future of their children.

Community member Jabulani Mkwanazi addressing the Presidential Climate Commission in eMalahleni

Community member Jabulani Mkwanazi addressing the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) in eMalahleni.
Photo: Chris Louwe

Community activists from coal affected communities in Emalahleni and surrounding areas gathered in Emalahleni for the first community consultation organised by the Presidential Climate Commission on 7 March 2022, today.

Communities expressed their unhappiness about the process of consultation so far. For a transition to be just, communities, who form the majority of people in the country, need to be included in all decision making about the transition, and have their voices heard. However, this process has moved for more than a year – since December 2020 – and they have not been consulted.

They made it clear that consultation should be more than a once off meeting. Communities need to be consulted throughout the remaining four years of the commission's work, and beyond that for the three decades to 2050 when the commission is saying that coal and other fossil fuel use will be phased out. Consultation must not be a tick box exercise. The community's voices need to heard, and their concerns and proposals need to be reflected in the commission's plans and documents. The community must have the opportunity to see how their inputs are used, and whether they agree. They also want to be involved in plans for the transition.

You can read the full media release here.

Simon Mbata: The Waste Picker Pioneer who had dinner with the Pope - a tribute to my dearest friend, colleague and brother

Simon Mbata

04 March 2022

It all started in the Free State, at the waste dumpsite in Sasolburg, South Africa, 15 years ago. It was a chilly, dry winter when I accompanied groundWork researchers to the landfill in 2007. We were met by a couple of very dark-skinned people in very dusty clothes, as if they had been walking on the side of a busy dirt road. I communicated with them in English, which was not their common dialect.  They spoke SeSotho and Afrikaans, which I am bad at. Simon stood out from the group, just by making sufficient effort to communicate with us, telling us of the difficulties they faced in their daily work of salvaging recyclable materials in exchange for money. The relationship between Simon and I started on that particular winter’s day, in 2007.

He had a very familiar surname among the Zulu clan and he used me to learn the IsiZulu and English languages, perfecting his IsiZulu over time, even though at the beginning he couldn’t construct a sentence. He joked that people should speak to me in SeSotho because I did not want to learn SeSotho. We started working very closely, roaming the country trying to encourage waste pickers to organize themselves because waste management was on the brink of being fully privatised, which meant that waste pickers would lose their livelihoods. We worked together in diverse and multicultural communities around the country because he was able to converse in almost all our South African languages. He could speak SeTshwane, Afrikaans, IsiZulu, switching between different languages and groups, depending which province we were in.

Read the full obituary here.


01 March 2022

FOEI logo

Friends of the Earth International is looking for a:

About the position: Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) is seeking an experienced and motivated person to join our Climate Justice and Energy (CJE) program team as CJE Research and Advocacy Officer. The Officer will work closely with the two Climate Justice and Energy International Program Coordinators and will be managed by the International Programs Facilitator. The successful candidate can be hosted in a Friends of the Earth group, located around the world, or at the FoEI International Secretariat in Amsterdam.

Full details of the position are available here. The closing date for applications is 13 March, 2022.

Ex-Thor Chemicals Worker Protest and Demand Worker Justice

28 February 2022

Since the late 80s, the UK based Thor Chemicals plant, situated in Cato Ridge, 30 kilometers outside Durban has been the source of mercury contaminating people's environment and which poisoned workers.  At least four workers died in the 90's as a result of mercury poisoning.  Many more were injured and Leigh Day, a legal firm from the UK, represented 42 Thor Chemicals workers in the UK who had been poisoned by mercury. According to Leigh Day this was the first multinational human rights case in the UK and it was a key case in the demands for Corporate Accountability at the United Nations.

Sadly, since 2000, many other workers affected by the mercury poisoning never received justice, despite various promises made by the government that they will assist in getting justice for workers. More than two decades later, ex-workers of Thor Chemicals are still seeking justice and demanding corporate and government accountability.

You can read the full media release here.

Somkhele Mining Protest: The battle for justice rages on.

Somkhele community and activists protesting in Mtubatuba October 2021-Image-Lunga Bhengu

Somkhele community and activists protesting in Mtubatuba, October 2021. Image: Lunga Bhengu

23 February 2022

On Thursday 24 February 2022 the community of Somkhele in northern KwaZulu-Natal will embark on protest action against Tendele Coal Mine and the local traditional council. The protest action is a response to a letter issued in December 2021 by the traditional council which was addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa requesting his intervention in the court case between the mine and affected communities. In the letter the traditional council claims that the resistance against the mine does not reflect the majority of the community.  The case referred to has already been heard and is awaiting judgment. Thanks to the separation of powers not even intervention from the President is possible.

The protest aims to discredit the claim that the majority of the community supports the mine and also to demonstrate to the public the solidarity between coal affected community members, environmental activists, and civil society in voicing out concerns and issues related to the Tendele mine operations in Somkhele. The march will invite all affected people in Somkhele to present their demands to the mine.

The concerns around mining in the area of Somkhele drew national and international attention in October 2020 when activist Fikile Ntshangase was assassinated at her home in the area. Ntshangase was a vocal and active member of MCEJO (Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation), a community organisation resisting mining and organising the community to fight for their rights. However, the community has been voicing its grievances against the mine since 2011.  Recent years have seen a rise in violence linked to mining in the Somkhele area, with reports of threats and intimidation targeting those opposing the mine. Two years ago, the Mthethwa family in the area was targeted (pg. 14) and their home sprayed with a hail of bullets for refusing to relocate.

Read the full media release here.

New research shows no end to coal financing in sight

16 February 2022

Today, Urgewald, Reclaim Finance, and 25 other NGO partners are publishing research on the financiers and investors behind companies on the "Global Coal Exit List" (GCEL). The GCEL Finance Research shows that South African banks and investors continue to finance coal despite the climate crisis and danger to people's health.

According to the research and findings, commercial banks globally channelled over US$1.5 trillion to the global coal industry between January 2019 and November 2021.

The Global Coal Exit List covers 1,032 companies across the world. Their activities range from coal mining, trading and transport to the operation of coal-fired power stations and the manufacturing of equipment for new coal plants. The research also examined institutional investors' exposure to the coal industry, based on their share and bond holdings as of November 2021.


Top South African lenders to the coal industry

Between January 2019 and November 2021, 10 African commercial banks provided US$2.807 billion in loans to the coal industry. Five South African banks accounted for 97% of total lending by African banks to companies on the GCEL.

The top five lenders in this ranking are Standard Bank (with a total of US$ 426 million in loans to the coal industry), FirstRand Bank, Nedbank, Absa Group and Investec Group.


Top South African underwriters to the coal industry

Between January 2019 and November 2021, these same five South African commercial banks channelled US$661 million to companies on the Global Coal Exit List through underwriting.

Whether banks are supporting the coal industry by providing loans or underwriting services, both actions lead to the same result: millions of dollars continue to be pumped into an industry that must urgently be phased out if we are to avoid global catastrophe.

You can read the full media release here.

groundWork December 2021 Newsletter released

Cover of December 2021 Newsletter

30 January 2022

In his opening note to this edition of the newsletter, groundWork Director Bobby Peek makes the following observations:

We live in a world of farcical, comical and indeed tragic contradictions. One has to ask oneself: how does South Africa have the political ability to pull off an "ambitious, long-term Just Energy Transition Partnership" to "accelerate the decarbonisation of South Africa's economy", and at the same time allow Shell to explore for oil and gas off our southern coast or our Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy in the middle of the annual United Nations discussions on climate change push for the expansion of oil and gas? That in the same month when we convince the world to consider a of $8.5 billion climate package that is made up of "grants, concessional loans and investments and risk sharing instruments, including to mobilise the private sector to change course", we maintain our course towards climate disaster with the very same private sector. How does the President explain this? How does the Presidential Climate Commission explain this? So one has to ask what is ambition? Well maybe it is not such a big deal. After all pledges have been made in the past and never delivered and therefore we can continue seeking oil and gas. Somewhat of a tragicomedy I would say.

You can read/download the latest newsletter here.

Toxic tours header graphic

Over a dozen frontline communities expose the local impact of plastic production through the Toxic Tours platform

28 January 2022

The Toxic Tours project takes the concept of local toxic tours into the digital space to reach a global audience, in the lead up to UNEA-5 and its goal of ensuring the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources.

The petrochemical industry is expanding, and plastic (of which 99% comes from fossil fuels) will be the industry’s next main focus. Communities from around the world, directly impacted by this growing threat from the fossil fuels and plastics industries, are self-organizing to present their local fights on a global interactive storytelling map, with the support of the #breakfreefromplastic movement. The Toxic Tours project features frontline communities living near petrochemical facilities in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the United States. The act of mapping the hyper-local consequences of these toxic plastic production plants gives these communities the power to reclaim the narrative of the spaces they inhabit and call home.

Zooming in on participating communities, local stories are told through video, sound, still shots, text, voice-over, and interviews. Viewers can virtually explore the different communities, and experience the toxic impacts of the petrochemical expansion as it creates more and more plastic. The initiative not only emphasizes the detriments to the environment and the communities themselves, but also highlights and uplifts the community-led work happening to combat petrochemical corporations and advocate for a sustainable environment, better jobs, healthcare, and other environmental and social justice priorities.

Viewers will be exposed to these emerging narratives from across national borders and regions. The map, charted by the frontline communities themselves, is the first comprehensive map of its kind.

Click here to read the full media release and to access resources.

groundWork 2021 Highlights

17 December 2021 - What a year! Yes, we always say this in groundWork, and we always promise that the next year is going to be less hectic, but the reality is we are activists, and this is how we roll. On adrenalin. Ok, I am getting old, and moving slower and more of a manager these days than an activist. But it is exciting to hear about all the work every Monday morning in our staff gathering and to be able to guide and with activists, shape struggle. I sometimes feel as if I am an intruder, because there is so much happening and keeping on top of all – is nigh impossible. From 3 we are now more than 20 with support associates. To make this growth happen in a coherent manner we have developed our five-year strategy from 2022 to 2026; we have had a great evaluation highlighting the strength of groundWork – and yes, some areas that need strengthening; and we are in the middle of a change process to better understand and manage our growth.

It is exciting to be part of local struggles in South Africa and across the continent. I live vicariously through the actions of all staff – and I wish I could be with of you every day. What an honour to lead such a great team. Sadly, we bid farewell to Luqman, who put our hospital work on the map in South Africa and Africa, but Mafoko and Azeeza have joined us to lead the Environmental Health Campaigns. And yes, we had to increase management in groundWork, and stepping up to the challenge was Rico. Thanks for taking on this challenge. And a big shout out to our young cohort of Nerissa, Asiphile, Mary-Joy (MJ) and Vuyi. Keep us rocking.

Finally, to all other staff not mentioned by name, we (Gill and I) love you all, to the Board, and especially the community organisations and people across South Africa and Africa who put their trust, faith and hope in us as we struggle with them – thanks for all your support. To our NGO partners – the Centre for Environmental Rights, Earthlife Africa, the Public Health Association of South Africa, Friends of the Earth International and Africa, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives Oilwatch, Health Care Without Harm, Naledi, Support Centre for Land Change, Environmental and Rural Solutions – thanks for working with us. To all our funders – for supporting us, and for challenging us along the way.

A Luta Continua
Bobby Peek

Read about groundWork's 2021 highlights here.

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