Johannesburg - Six civil society organisations have presented a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Council, blaming South Africa’s poor regulation of the mining industry and coal-fired power stations for the violation of human rights in the country.
The submission comes as the Department of Energy on Monday unveiled coal independent power producers Khanyisa and Thabametsi as preferred bidders to build two coal-fired plants that will add 863.3 megawatts (MW) of electricity to the country’s grid in the next five years.
The Centre for Environmental Rights, Centre for Applied Legal Studies, groundWork, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, Highveld Environmental Justice Network and Earthjustice made the submission in the Universal Periodic Review of SA last week.
They called on the Human Rights Council to recommend the government prohibit mining or the use of practices that may violate human rights or cause substantial harm to the environment on which communities depend, prioritising strategic water source areas and protected areas.
They also want mining companies to be held accountable for unlawful activities through a comprehensive and transparent compliance and enforcement programme, and an effective and transparent licensing appeals process.
In the submission, the organisations note that in Mpumalanga, 60 percent of the surface area is being mined or subject to prospecting and mining rights applications.
The organisations submitted a report raising concerns that Eskom had some of the dirtiest power plants in the world, and continuously exceeded South Africa’s air pollution standards.
“These plants release dozens of toxic substances into the air and water, causing massive health and environmental harms. As with mining, these problems are particularly prevalent in Mpumalanga, where eleven coal-fired power stations operate, a 12th is under construction, and three others are proposed - with two of those already having received environmental authorisation,” the report said.
The report also said South Africa should ensure coal-fired power plants at least met domestic emission standards.
Despite the environmental and social harms of mining and of coal burning, the government is not enforcing the relevant environmental standards.
“For example, in 2015, the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) assigned only five officials to ensure environmental compliance for over 1 000 operating and derelict mines in Mpumalanga,” the groups said.
They also accused the government of granting Eskom’s request to postpone compliance with air quality standards for most coal-fired power plants until at least 2020, and in many cases until 2025.
“Government inaction has also helped make the mining industry one of the least transparent industries in South Africa.
“Basic information essential to ensuring informed environmental decision-making and holding mines accountable is not publicly available and can only be accessed through a seriously-flawed access to information request procedure the DMR regularly flouts.
“Local communities are then forced to rely on alternative water resources, such as rainwater storage tanks or water collected from distant sources that may be unreliable and difficult to access.
“During the 2015/16 drought, the town of Mtubatuba paid to truck water from a distance because the groundwater had been depleted by Petmin’s Somkhele Mine.”