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  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien


The devastating impacts of coal mining and coal-fired power generation on communities and the environment, cannot be underestimated. The Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle campaign calls for a just transition from coal mining and coal-fired power generation to clean, renewable energy to provide jobs without the large-scale devastation that coal leaves behind.

In May 2016, the Centre for Environmental Rights launched Zero Hour: Poor Governance of Mining and the Violation of Environmental Rights in Mpumalanga – an extensive study into poor mining governance and the violation of environmental rights. The report reveals that government’s failure to ensure that mining companies comply with the law is causing unprecedented environmental degradation and chronic health problems in Mpumalanga – with dire consequences for the affected communities.

Jobs in the renewable energy sector include the installation and maintenance of solar panels. Image: CSIR

With 5,000 coal trucks using Mpumalanga’s roads daily, dust from mine haul roads alone contributes an estimated 49% of nitrogen dioxide pollution in the Highveld Air Pollution Priority Area. Communities are, furthermore, exposed to water, soil, noise and dust pollution – all contributing to ill health – and many experience social disruption ranging from increased crime to forced resettlement.

Children play near illegal settlements built on a former coal mine. Image: Victoria Schneider/Al Jazeera

Marginalised communities suffer most: settlements are frequently located in close proximity to mines causing houses to crack from blasting operations and some to collapse through subsidence; while mines leach toxic water into the ground and surface water on which communities depend. The situation is the result of neglect, limited resources and wilful inaction by the Departments of Mineral Resources and Water and Sanitation. It is time for the DMR and the DWS to act decisively to prioritise the people and environment, and to hold mining companies to account for their actions.

The devastating human rights violations caused by coal mining were again highlighted in a research study just six months after the publication of Zero Hour. Entitled The Destruction of the Highveld, and published by groundWork, this report focuses specifically on the impacts of coal extraction.

A demonstration outside the Department of Energy in Pretoria. Image: Pretoria News

One of the biggest consumers of coal in the country is Eskom, which uses coal as fuel for its coal-fired power stations. Coal-fired power is, however, a major contributor to pollution and ill health: air pollution emissions from Eskom’s coal-fired plants cause an estimated 2,200 premature deaths per year due to exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5). This includes approximately 200 deaths of young children.

The economic cost is estimated at R30 billion per year, including premature deaths from PM2.5 exposure and costs from the neurotoxic effects of mercury on children.

The Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle campaign calls for a just transition to renewable energy systems for the people. Image:

Coal-fired power also negatively impacts the environment through soil and water pollution associated with coal mining, and renders land unusable for agriculture. In addition, coal-fired power stations are water-intensive – a major concern in water-scarce SA – and significant sources of greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.

The Destruction of the Highveld report argues that coal mining and coal-fired power unjustifiably violates people’s Constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health and well-being, and impedes our Constitutional right to adequate food and water.