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Thabametsi coal-fired power plant stopped, Limpopo province, South Africa

In 2020, after years of legal struggles, including South Africa's first climate litigation, the Thabametsi coal-fired power plant project was finally cancelled.


South Africa has a long history of electricity shortages. According to a 1998 South African government white paper, the country's national energy planning was ill-conceived [1]. The report also predicted that if South Africa did not start building new power plants, the country would have serious power problems by 2007. This case explains the local ecology conflict caused by the establishment of coal-fired power plant.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Thabametsi coal-fired power plant stopped, Limpopo province, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Limpopo
Location of conflict:Waterberg district
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Thermal power plants
Specific commodities:Coal
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Project name: Thabametsi Power Project

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Level of Investment for the conflictive project2,000,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:745,758-5,799,090 [2016]
Start of the conflict:15/05/2015
End of the conflict:27/05/2021
Company names or state enterprises:Eskom from South Africa
Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) from Republic of Korea
Marubeni from Japan
Relevant government actors:Municipalities
The National Department of Environmental Affairs
The National Department of Health
International and Finance InstitutionsSouth Africa Public Investment Corporation (PIC) from South Africa
Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) from South Africa
South African Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) from South Africa
Standard Bank South Africa from South Africa
Nedbank from South Africa
ABSA from South Africa
Rand Merchant Bank Holdings (RMBH) from South Africa
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Earthlife Africa:
groundWork: Friends of the Earth South Africa (groundWork):
Centre for Environmental Rights (CER):
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Artisanal miners
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Noise pollution, Soil erosion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Project cancelled
Public Interest Litigation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Savannah Environmental Organization published an assessment of the project's impact on climate change.
The environmental organizations groundWork, Earthlife Africa challenged the legality of the establishment of the Thabametsi power plant by means of a lawsuit. The High Court in Pretoria set aside the environmental approval for the 1200 MW Thabametsi coal-fired power station that would have been built in its first phase at 557 MW outside Lephalale in Limpopo province [10] holding that the Environment Minister was obliged to consider climate impacts in her decision, but had failed to do so.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:This conflict engaged many local communities and organisations, lasting for six years. Finally, the court cancelled the permission of establishing the power plant and all financial institutions withdrew their investment. Nicole Loser, head of the Centre for Environmental Rights’ Pollution and Climate Change programme said [10]: “Not only did we manage to create new jurisprudence and legal precedent to aid future campaigns, but the PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION pushed for better decisions that align with Constitutional rights, backed up by science and economics.”
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Working paper. White Paper on the Energy Policy of the Republic of South Africa. Department of Minerals and Energy, December 1998. ISBN: 0-9584235-8-X.
[click to view]

[8] Pandey, Vimal Chandra, Jay Shankar Singh, Rana P. Singh, Nandita Singh, and M. Yunus. “Arsenic Hazards in Coal Fly Ash and Its Fate in Indian Scenario.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 55, no. 9-10 (2011): 819–35.
[click to view]

[9] “Thabametsi Power Station - Centre for Environmental Rights.” Savannah Environmental, June 2017.
[click to view]

[2] Rathi, Anusha. “Why South Africa Is in the Dark, Again.” Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy, July 8, 2022.
[click to view]

[3] “Problems at Eskom Identified as a Main Cause of SA's Energy Crisis.” College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, June 9, 2021.
[click to view]

[4] “Government to Take over R254 Billion of Eskom’s Debt.” BusinessTech. BusinessTech, February 22, 2023.
[click to view]

[5] Charles, Marvin. “Electricity Price Hike: Municipalities Strike Back against Eskom 'Punishing' People for Its Failures.” News24, January 19, 2023.
[click to view]

[6] Ziady, Hanna. “South Africa's Energy Crisis Deepens as Blackouts Hit 12 Hours a Day | CNN Business.” CNN. Cable News Network, January 18, 2023.
[click to view]

[7] Global Energy Monitor. “Thabametsi Power Station.” Global Energy Monitor. Global Energy Monitor, June 7, 2021.
[click to view]

[10] Melissa. “Celebrating a Major Climate Victory: Court Sets aside Approval for Thabametsi Coal Power Plant.” Centre for Environmental Rights, February 25, 2021.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Universitat de Barcelona (Pol.Eco.)
Last update19/03/2023
Conflict ID:6290
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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