WINNER: Activist Jonathan Deal has won the international Goldman Environment Prize for his anti-fracking work.

Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

HE went from a high school drop-out to winning one of the most prestigious environmental awards in the world.

Jonathan Deal of Durbanville, the man who spearheaded the anti-fracking movement in South Africa, has won the Goldman Environmental Prize for his anti-fracking campaign.

The award, with a cash prize of $150 000 (R1.4 million), was made by the Goldman Environmental Foundation in San Francisco.

The foundation said Deal, “with no experience in grass-roots organising”, had led “a successful campaign against fracking in South Africa to protect the Karoo, a semi-desert region treasured for its agriculture, beauty and wildlife”.

“I just never, never expected it. I think there is probably a book in this. From the Karoo to San Francisco,” Deal told the Cape Times.

Deal, who has a guest farm in the Klein Karoo outside Touws River, heard he had won in November, but had to keep it under wraps. He had been sitting around the campfire when the call came through. Deal was so overwhelmed, he was in tears.

“I never set out to do this stuff. When I first got involved I was just a person who loved nature, then I morphed into an environmental activist.

“But it’s not just about Jonathan Deal. I’m just the thin edge of the wedge in this anti-fracking fight. Fracking has become centre stage all over recently. This will help send a message to the global community.”

Deal first heard about plans to frack for shale gas in the Karoo in January 2011 when he read an article in the Cape Times quoting Johann Rupert’s fears about fracking. He contacted several people about the issue, and quickly found himself “almost by default” spearheading an anti-fracking movement and founding the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG).

“In the beginning I was quite naive. I went to a public meeting organised by Shell. I believed if there was enough emotion expressed, Shell would just go away.”

Deal, 54, is a businessman in the security sector, and has put a fair amount of his own money into the campaign. He grew up in Honeydew outside Johannesburg, and went to school at Northcliff High.

“Standards six and seven, I enjoyed them so much I did them both twice,” he joked.

He dropped out and went to a “cram school” where he did accounting and business economics, “which awakened a corporate interest in me”.

He worked as a motorcycle salesman in Kuils River, travelled overseas in the early 1980s and returned in the mid-80s to “a South Africa in turmoil”. “The only industry that was hiring was the security industry.”

He “rose quickly” in the industry, moved to East London where he met and married Sharon, and then moved to Cape Town. They had two children.

He started his own company in risk management. His wife’s family had a storage company, which gave them enough money to establish Gecko Rock guest farm near Touws River. For the last two years it’s been closed to the public as Deal juggled his business and activist lives.

Deal says the award money has no strings attached.

“Clearly they would like you to use it to further your campaign. A lot of people have worked for TKAG for nothing.”