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Mondi and Sappi plantations in Zululand, South Africa


Pine and eucalyptus plantations have been established in parts of Zululand to supply wood to pulp mills situated at Mandeni (Sappi Tukela), Stanger (Sappi Fine Paper), Felixton (Mondi), and Richards Bay (Mondi).

Most of the pulp and paper is produced for export, but it all winds up as polluting waste, mostly from packaging materials, printing paper and sanitary tissue products.

Pulp and paper production starts with the destruction of grasslands, wetlands and forests to clear land for plantations. This is followed by their excessive water use, pollution with toxic agricultural chemicals, and the spread of invasive alien plants. Pesticides sprayed in plantations endanger both the health of the workers involved, and wildlife affected by overspray and pollution of streams etc.

This harm is followed by intensive mechanical management which results in soil compaction and pollution by oil spills and other waste, as well as severe soil erosion after clear cuts.

Plantation work usually involves temporary workers including women who must do dangerous work under harsh outdoor conditions for very little pay. This adds insult to the injury of having to do this demeaning work on land that was once their own, with clean water, fertile soil and plentiful wildlife.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Mondi and Sappi plantations in Zululand, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:KwaZulu-Natal
Location of conflict:Zululand
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Invasive species
Specific commodities:Pine

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Tree plantations in this province cover approximately 250 000 hectares, providing mainly pulpwood to 6 pulp and paper mills.

Project area:250000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project0
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:thousands more
Start of the conflict:1990
Company names or state enterprises:Mondi Paper Company from South Africa
Sappi from South Africa
Relevant government actors:Dept of Water Affairs , Dept of Forestry , Dept of Environment Affairs , Dept of Trade and Industries , Industrial Development Corporation
International and Finance InstitutionsForest Stewardship Council (FSC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Isolemvelo community environmental group (ICEG), Timberwatch Coalition

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Community awareness raising through workshops and information resources based on extensive observation and research.


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Genetic contamination
Other Environmental impactsSoil acidity increased and loss of natural soil microorganisms and topsoil.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Other Health impactsPlantation work is generally dangerous and unhealthy due to poor working conditions and exposure to heat, rain, toxic chemicals, fumes from machinery etc.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Militarization and increased police presence
Other socio-economic impactsOne of the worst problems is the contract labour system which allows plantation owners to use temporary or part-time workers and not be responsible for providing benefits such as housing, medical aid etc. while paying extremely low wages.


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
A transformation of the land ownership and management scenario with full restoration of land to local communities as a solution.
Proposal and development of alternatives:Different land-use models designed to convert monoculture tree plantations into mixed species continuous cover forestry operations.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite government promises to rectify bad decisions of the previous regime, it continues to support and to subsidise the establishment of industrial timber plantations that displace local communities, destroy biodiversity, and undermine sustainable economies in favour of corporate profits.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Forest Act

Water Act

National Environmental Management Act (NEMA)

Land Act

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

- A Study of the Social and Economic Impacts of Industrial Tree Plantations in the KwaZulu - Natal Province of South Africa by Blessing Karumbidza -

- Preliminary report: THE SOCIAL IMPACTS OF CERTIFIED TIMBER PLANTATIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA AND THE IMPLICATIONS THEREOF FOR AGROFUEL CROPS - available as a pdf file (1,3MB) impacts of certified timber plantations in South Africa - TW(2).pdf

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Illegal Timber Plantations - A Growing Problem in South Africa

Timberwatch produced video -

Other comments:Visit for links to video presentations on various aspects of monoculture tree plantations.

Meta information

Contributor:Wally Menne
Last update08/04/2014
Conflict ID:362