Cape Town - Anti-fracking campaigner and environmental activist Jonathan Deal has won the African region nomination of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize – often cited as the “Green Nobel” – for 2013.
Deal, who founded the Treasure the Karoo Action Group that has spearheaded opposition to plans to frack (hydraulic fracturing) parts of the Karoo for shale gas, was to receive the award that carries a $150 000 (R3-million) purse at a ceremony in San Francisco on Sunday night. A second ceremony was to be held simultaneously in Washington, DC.
He is the second South African to receive this award – KwaZulu-Natal campaigner Bobby Peek was similarly honoured in 1998 for his work tackling industrial pollution in the South Durban area.
The prize, awarded annually to grass-roots activists in six geographic regions, was created in 1990 by San Franciso philanthropists Richard Goldman and his wife Rhoda Goldman, both now deceased.
Speaking to the Cape Argus from San Francisco before the ceremony, Deal said the news of his win had come as a surprise. “I knew nothing at all, it was out of the blue… It’s only just starting to sink in now,” he said.
He’d received a phone call from the Goldman Prize foundation after dinner one evening, while sitting in front of the fire at his Karoo property Gecko Rock, a camping and caravanning resort near Touws River.
He’d been told that as well as the prize money, he and his wife, Sharon, would be taken on a two-week tour of the US. “By that stage I was almost in tears,” he said.
Deal said he would return to South Africa with first-hand knowledge of fracking that would enhance his credibility: “I will have seen an actual fracking rig, heard it, smelled it, felt it.”
He had a high-definition camera that he would be using in the US to record conditions at fracking sites and interviews with affected people.
“I’m not a film-maker, but I’m sure I can come back with good footage that will aid me,” he said.
It would also mean the Treasure the Karoo Action Group becoming part of the international environmental activism voice, speaking in a co-ordinated fashion. “I’ll be meeting some quite big coalitions and sharing some ideas that will be very valuable and I want to do a symbolic swopping of flags,” Deal said.
The award would also boost the group’s fund-raising ability substantially, he added. “This has already been very useful.”
He would be able to pay staff, including director of research Jeanie le Roux, who had worked for two years without a salary. “So at least I’m sure now that I’ll be able to give them something,” he said.
The award would also help to kick-start the community awareness campaign that was planned for his return, he added.
“I’ll be doing road trips – not just in the Karoo; the first will be in Gauteng – to get the message out. So, these are some of the results I’m already reaping.”
Deal said he had “absolutely not” modified his strong anti-fracking views.
“The more I read and the more media reports there are and the more I see the growing backlash against fracking, the more convinced I am that there is no reason to go ahead (with fracking in the Karoo),” he said. - Cape Argus