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‘Rain Bomb’ reparations are long overdue

Multiple cars lie under rubble at the Khokhoba informal settlement in Durban where residents were seen digging for bodies after the recent floods. The victims of this devastating climate catastrophe are South Africans who did not cause the climate crisis, because we can be sure that their annual emissions of greenhouse gases are far below the 8.3 tons per person in this country, which is still the world’s most unequal society and among the world’s highest emitters, says the writer. Picture: Theo Jeptha/ African News Agency (ANA)

Multiple cars lie under rubble at the Khokhoba informal settlement in Durban where residents were seen digging for bodies after the recent floods. The victims of this devastating climate catastrophe are South Africans who did not cause the climate crisis, because we can be sure that their annual emissions of greenhouse gases are far below the 8.3 tons per person in this country, which is still the world’s most unequal society and among the world’s highest emitters, says the writer. Picture: Theo Jeptha/ African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 15, 2022

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By Desmond D'Sa

The climate catastrophe witnessed in Durban and surrounding areas left terrible wounds that residents have not yet recovered from.

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The year’s worth – 350mm of rain – that pounded many areas of the province on April 11 and 12 more than doubled the ferocity of the previous record: the Easter 2019 Rain Bomb.

Our province counted 455 dead or missing (including 57 children), 14 000 homes destroyed or badly damaged, wrecked schools unable to cater for 320 000 learners, and at least R17 billion in damage.

Many areas were without water, including (just next to King Shaka International Airport) Tongaat, where thousands of families must apparently still wait months for a pumping station repair.

A month later, we know who are allies when it comes to climate justice, and who among us are promoting climate injustice. It is contradictory, for we credit President Cyril Ramaphosa with visiting the scenes of destruction nearly immediately, where he said to distraught low-income people, “this disaster is part of climate change”.

“It is telling us that climate change is serious, it is here. We no longer can postpone what we need to do, and the measures we need to take to deal with climate change.”

But on May 10, appearing before big business at African Mining Indaba, he contradicted himself: “Countries on the African continent need to be able to explore and extract oil and gas in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner.”

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But there is no such thing. Instead, the continent needs payments by high-polluting countries in order to justify leaving fossil fuels underground, the same way Ramaphosa’s negotiators squeezed $8.5bn (more than R137bn) in concessional finance commitments from the West (supposedly) to decarbonise Eskom, at the Glasgow climate summit last November.

Another shocking sell-out on climate rationality came the day before, in a May 9 decision by Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy regarding a methane gas project at Coega.

She acknowledged objections by groundWork and the Centre for Environmental Rights: “Climate change impacts during the life-cycle of the project are of high significance, and even ‘with mitigation’, remain irreversible and can only be mitigated to a limited extent.”

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But nevertheless she concluded, “I am satisfied that environmental impacts associated with the proposed Coega Gas-to-Power Plant have been critically investigated, assessed, appropriately mitigated and considered”, and so she approved the polluting plant.

The same injustices were evident when Covid-19 raged through our communities, for wealthy and lighter-skinned populations were taken far better care of.

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Government officials should be capable of race and class analysis, yet while they never release statistics, society knows that the victims last month were disproportionately those with darker skin, women, the youth and the elderly.

The Rain Bomb victims are also the South Africans who did not cause the climate crisis because we can be sure that their annual emissions of greenhouse gases are far below the 8.3 tons per person in this country, which is the world’s most unequal society and among the world’s highest emitters.

Climate injustice in Durban means the victims were never prepared, as they didn’t know this sort of crisis would visit them. Aside from South Durban activists providing climate education in the schools and at protests, the municipality and Department of Basic Education are completely slack on adaptation measures in the low-income, steep-sloped and low-lying areas.

The purported climate experts are just as slack, even those in the UN who praise Durban for climate-proofing. Even after the October 2017 Rain Bomb – extremely destructive with just 108mm falling in one day, killing more than a dozen, from which no lessons were apparently learnt – the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was praising Durban.

We were stunned to read this 2018 comment: “Individual political leadership in municipal government, for example, has been cited as a factor driving the adaptation policies of early adapters in Quito, Ecuador, and Durban, South Africa.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, since Durban’s greenwashing former mayor Zandile Gumede – winner of a WWF “One Planet Award” in 2018 (several weeks after newspapers reported on her imminent arrest for solid-waste procurement corruption) – had done nothing to provide climate adaptation support to the homeless who then built on or near steep slopes.

To be fair to the elites, two of South Africa’s leading fossil-fuel tycoons did give generously to the rehabilitation of Durban – Patrice Motsepe of African Rainbow Coal (R30 million) and Mike Teke of Seriti (R100 000).

We are waiting on whether others in the same fossil class will follow: Phuthuma Nhleko who took over Ramaphosa’s Shanduka Coal (and also owes us locally in Wentworth for his 26% share of the ultra-polluting albeit now-closed Engen Refinery), July Ndlovu at Thungela (formerly AngloCoal), Mxolisi Mgojo at Exxaro, and Bridgette Radebe at Mmakau Mining.

The Black Diamonds were victims of a recent coal-asset gimmick known as pass-the-trash, sold to them by outgoing Western Multinational Corporate WMC tycoons like Ivan Glasenberg from Glencore in Switzerland, Mark Cutifani from Anglo American in London, and the owners of the former Glencore which became BHP Billiton in Australia, as well as UK oil firms BP and Shell whose South Durban Sapref refinery was fortunately shut on March 31 since it cannot produce sufficiently clean petrol.

We insist on their payment of historic climate debt, rather than just laying that responsibility on Motsepe and Teke. Since “loss and damage” demands by African civil society and some negotiating delegations are going to be front and centre in November at the first African UN climate summit – in Egypt – since Durban hosted the event in 2011, the Rain Bomb and our desperate need for reparations are not going anywhere.

* D'Sa Environmentalist and co-ordinator of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance

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