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Environmental Justice

The South Durban Basin Community's Story 

"The Engen refinery in South Durban is the focus of environmental concern about industrial pollution. Apart from being the largest oil refinery in Durban as well as one of the two largest source of sulphur dioxide pollution in South Durban, Engen Refinery is closely located to two residential low income black communities, Merebank and Wentworth. Its immediate adjacent proximity to these two communities optimizes for many the problems of industry's impact on public health and the problems of quality of Black communities (Sven Peek)." 

"For more than five decades they (the residents) have been protesting and picketing the plant, which emits toxic chemicals and occasionally violently explodes, raining petrol, fire and debris onto those who live in the surrounding suburbs." "Environmental and health experts say toxic fumes cause asthma, cancers and respiratory diseases, of which there is a higher-than-average incidence in the area." "SDCEA says it has recorded 55 major industrial explosions and incidents in South Durban Basin from 2000 to 2016. At least two of these took place in the SAPREF oil refinery and a whopping 18 at the 67-year-old Engen refinery."

Bongani Mthembu, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance’s senior air-quality and geographic-information-system officer "says South Durban is home to about half a million people who suffer the legacy of apartheid planning. Mostly impoverished Black people live close to the polluting industries."

Long-suffering South Durban Basin communities have welcomed the decision to convert the oil refinery to a storage facility but activists worry the polluting will continue.

What is Environmental Justice?

According to Enviropaedia   "Environmental Justice is a broad concept which sees the environment as including not just nature, but also the home, the neighbourhood and the workplace. It places the well-being of people, rather than plants and animals, at the centre of environmental, social, political and economic relationships. It is essentially a political concept in that it recognises that the poor and powerless in our society invariably bear the brunt of environmental degradation such as polluted air, polluted water, inadequate housing, lack of refuse removal, etc. Environmental justice means correcting these inequalities and allowing all people to benefit from a clean, healthy, aesthetic and sustainable environment, regardless of their status in society."

"... environmental justice principles are also expressed in Section 24 of the Bill of Rights which gives all people the right (amongst other things) to ‘…an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being…’ and in legislation such as the National Environmental Management Act (1998) which states that

‘…Environmental justice must be pursued so that adverse environmental impacts shall not be distributed in such a manner as to unfairly discriminate against any person, particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged persons…’ "

"The concept of environmental justice links 'the principles of social justice and ecological sustainability.'"

To view environmental justice conflicts anywhere in the world, view the Environmental Justice Atlas - the Global Atlas of Environmental Justice. "Newly documented cases and information are continuously added to the platform. However, many are still undocumented and new ones arise. Please note that the absence of data does not indicate the absence of conflict. You can help us improve the coverage." You can find or add information on their website on environmental justice conflicts, resistance, impacts and outcomes in these categories: 

  • Biodiversity conservation conflicts

  • Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock management)

  • Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy

  • Industrial and Utilities Conflicts

  • Infrastructure and Built Environment

  • Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction

  • Nuclear

  • Tourism Recreation

  • Waste Management

  • Water Management

Organisations in South Africa
Legal Organisations
  • All Rise is a non-profit organisation and registered law clinic, "the only pro bono attorneys in the province (KwaZulu-Natal) working exclusively in the environmental field" - work towards providing access to climate and environmental justice for all and help protect the planet for current and future generations. 

  • Centre for Environmental Rights are activist lawyers who work with communities and civil society organisations in South Africa to realise our Constitutional right to a healthy environment by advocating and litigating for environmental justice. We seek a just, equitable, compassionate society which is resilient, celebrates diversity, and respects the inter-dependence between people and the environment."


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