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Coal Pollution from Eskom in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Eskom's coal power operations are responsible for severe pollution. The government continues to invest in Eskom and deregulate the already-weak legislation in the face of the coronavirus epidemic despite environmental groups' legal efforts.


In South Africa, 90% of the nation’s electricity is coal-powered. The country is also the seventh largest coal producer worldwide and is the ninth largest for carbon dioxide emissions per capita. Consequently, more than 2,200 people die every year in South Africa from the consequences of air pollution from coal-fired power plants. The most frequent causes of death are infections of the lower respiratory tract, pneumonia, cancer, strokes, and heart disease [1][9]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Coal Pollution from Eskom in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Mpumalanga
Location of conflict:Emalahleni
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Coal extraction and processing
Thermal power plants
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

In Mpumalanga alone, the state-owned electricity monopoly Eskom operates 12 power plants. Across South Africa, Eskom's mines burn around 120 million tons of coal a year, emitting some 200 billion liters of flue gas [1].

Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:05/05/2006
Company names or state enterprises:ESKOM from South Africa
Sasol from South Africa
Relevant government actors:Department of Economic Development and Tourism
Pretoria High Court
Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Vukani Environmental Movement
Highveld Environmental Justice Network
Life After Coal Campaign
Earthlife Africa
Centre for Environmental Rights
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Global warming, Noise pollution, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Land dispossession
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The government continues to invest in Eskom and deregulate the already-weak legislation in the face of the coronavirus epidemic despite environmental groups' legal efforts.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Policy Press. Environmental Justice, Popular Struggle and Community Devt (Harley & Scandrett 2019)
[click to view]

[1] Spiegel International. South Africans fight for their right to breathe (Grill 2020)
[click to view]

[3] Sowetan Live. Coal dust and smog plague lives on SA’s Highveld (2019)
[click to view]

[4] CGTN. South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province choking in pollution (Njamela 2019)
[click to view]

[5] Centre for Environmental Rights. Environmental groups take government to High Court (2019)
[click to view]

[6] Energy Central News. Eskom resists enforcement, new evidence on deaths caused by Kendal’s pollution emerge (2020)
[click to view]

[7] PMG. Climate change public hearings day 1 (2015)
[click to view]

[8] IOL. South Africa loosens pollution limits even as virus sets in (Burkhardt 2020)
[click to view]

[9] Bloomberg. Eskom’s Kendal causing excess pollution deaths (Sguazzin 2020)
[click to view]

[10] The South African. Government lowers air pollution standards amid COVID-19 pandemic (Chothia 2020)
[click to view]

[11] Health-E News. Eskom’s suffocating stranglehold (2019)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update08/06/2020
Conflict ID:5089
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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