Skip to Content

  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien


New report by CER partner groundWork on destruction of the Highveld by coal mining

09 November 2016 at 12:35 pm

Six months after the CER’s publication of Zero Hour:  Poor Governance of Mining and the Violation of Environmental Rights in Mpumalanga, the devastating human rights violations caused by coal mining in Mpumalanga have again been highlighted in a comprehensive research study.

Entitled The Destruction of the Highveld, and published by groundWork, one of CER’s partners in the #LifeAfterCoal campaign, the new report is the first of a two-part series and focuses specifically on the impacts of coal extraction. Part 2, to be published in 2017, will look at the impacts of the burning of coal for electricity.

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 are currently causing 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 to society is estimated at 30 billion rand per year, including premature deaths from PM2.5 exposure and costs from the neurotoxic effects of mercury on children.

Coal-fired power also negatively impacts the environment through the soil and water pollution associated with coal mining, and renders land unusable for agriculture. Coal-fired power stations are, further, water-intensive – a major concern in a water-scarce country such 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 violate our Constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to our health and well-being, and impede the Constitutional right to adequate food and water.

The groundWork report was launched in Arbor near Delmas yesterday, and in eMalahleni in Mpumalanga today. For more about the launch and study, see groundWork’s announcement media release, below.

Media release issued by groundWork on Tuesday, 8 November 2016

groundWork Launches The Destruction of the Highveld. Part 1: Digging Coal

[Arbor, Mpumalanga, 8 November 2016] The Destruction of the Highveld is being presented to people in the village of Arbor, Mpumalanga, on 8 November 2016, and in eMalahleni on 9 November 2016. Arbor village is dumped upon by coal dust, people have been relocated, their homes have cracked, and the air is polluted by the local mines. The groundWork  Report is an annual report on the state of environmental justice. It looks at the ways in which environmental injustice is imposed on people but also at how people resist it. This report celebrates the resistance of the people of the Highveld. In a context where irresponsible government has buried its head in a discard coal dump, The Destruction of the Highveld looks forward to the people leading a debate on life after coal.

The report is also being simultaneously launched online and will also be available to the rest of the public 8th November on groundWork’s website: The 2016 groundWork Report documents the social and environmental cost of coal mining. It will be followed in 2017 with a report on the costs of burning coal in power stations and industrial plants.

The eastern Highveld is fertile and well-watered. It is the source of several major rivers, including the Vaal, and a critical food producing region. Over a century of mining and burning coal has damaged large parts of the Highveld. The flow of water is interrupted and the land is destroyed by underground and open cast coal mining. The land is also coated in coal dust from blasting. Groundwater and rivers are contaminated by acid mine drainage to the point that whole catchments are turning into wastelands. This is made worse by heavily polluted industrial effluent and municipal sewage leaks.

Environmental ruin has been accompanied by the impoverishment of the people. Over half of the people living in South Africa are poor and the poverty rate is amplified on the Highveld. More than half the people are also without work and it is a constant refrain that those born in the area do not pass the medical tests for work in neighbouring mines and factories. For the most part then, workers are brought into the area from elsewhere. This adds a further twist to already harsh gender and social relations and the rate of local unemployment.

This report is just one of the many tools groundWork has used in trying to support the voice of  the poor, marginalised and disenfranchised Highveld communities. The report would never have been a reality without the experiences and knowledge sharing of the community. Launching the report in the Highveld first is also a way of creating stronger community bonds, by using community voices to create awareness and spread the lifesaving message on the dangers of coal mining.

The Johannesburg launch will follow on 22 November 2016.



David Hallowes

Author and Researcher, groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa

Tel (m): +27 (0) 83 262 4922

Email: [email protected]

Victor Munnik

Author and Researcher, groundwork, Friends of the Earth South Africa

Tel (m): +27 (0) 82 906 3699

Email: [email protected]

Nombulelo Shange

Media and Communications Manager, groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa

Tel (w): +27 (0) 33 342 5662

Tel (m): +27 (0) 74 874 2177

Email: [email protected]

groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Coal, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International. For more information visit