Environmental justice group groundWork and Mpumalanga community organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (Vukani) are disappointed with Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy's decision to apply for leave to appeal parts of an air pollution court judgment.
Represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), groundWork and Vukani note that the judgment, handed down in the Pretoria High Court on March 18, was a “resounding victory” for environmental justice in South Africa.
In the judgment, Judge Colleen Collis recognised the poor air quality in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Highveld region as a breach of residents’ Constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being.
The judgment also directed government to prepare and implement regulations to reduce air pollution – according to Section 20 of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (AQA) – within 12 months of the order.
Creecy is not appealing the first part of the order that relates to the immediate realisation of Section 24 of the Constitution, but rather those that relate to the interpretation of Section 20 of the AQA.
In this regard, groundWork and Vukani state that the declaration of residents’ guaranteed right to a healthy environment still stands. As such, groundWork and Vukani will proceed to take action on this basis through their various community-based activities.
“The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s decision to appeal parts of this judgment risks further delaying any meaningful action being taken to lift the burden of air pollution, which residents of the Mpumalanga Highveld experience every day,” says groundWork director Bobby Peek.
He says these measures are way overdue, considering that government first recognised this area as an air pollution hotspot 18 years ago.
A significant portion of Mpumalanga Highveld region was declared a high priority area as far back as 2004. Since then, repeated studies, and the recent High Court judgment, found that air pollution in the area is responsible for premature deaths, decreased lung function, deterioration of the lungs and heart, and the development of diseases such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, tuberculosis and cancer.
groundWork and Vukani note that these ongoing harms particularly affect the lives of the elderly and children.
Going forward, CER deputy director Wandisa Phama says, the groups will wait for a hearing date for the application for leave to appeal.
“At this time, all parties will be able to make arguments before Collis and she will then decide whether another court could reasonably come to a different conclusion, or if there are other compelling reasons in the interests of justice for the disputed parts of the decision to be reconsidered.”