Over the course of three days from 24-26 September 2020, Sisonke Environmental Justice Network organised an exchange programme with WoMin, Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, Khuthala Environmental Care Group and the Greater Phola/Ogies Women’s Forum in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The learning exchange brought together community organisations who face similar struggles on the impacts of coal mining activities in their own communities across the country. It also formed part of a series of activities in honour of Global Day of Climate Action, September 25.
Newcastle is starting to see the increased presence and prospecting of many coal mining companies migrating from Mpumalanga province. The ongoing challenge that communities face is a lack of consultation when mines are granted prospecting and mining rights. They often do not have a consent right (Free Prior Informed Consent) or the Right to Say No.
The main objectives of the learning exchange was to:
- Share experiences, ideas and discussion on the gender impact of climate change.
- Raise awareness of human impacts of climate change.
- Build strong local movement and solidarity.
- Stimulate active involvement and build collective actions amongst communities.
Understanding the impacts: A toxic tour
The three day programme on 24 September, Heritage Day started with a toxic tour visiting local communities affected by Buffalo Mine in Ellen Farm, and Ikwezi Mine in Kliprand Farm. The central theme of the day being heritage and how mining companies had destroyed people’s right to enjoy their heritage and nature. Dressed in beautiful traditional attire many of the women in the community expressed their deep concerns about the mining companies and the hardshipsthey face.The 16 participants and community members visited both sites hearing from the community on their issues.
“Graves have been destroyed, the mine compensated us for removal of the graves with a goat, blankets and coffins. We lost hope, children are not working, and we used to be surrounded by many fruits trees. We lost plants we use for medicine when we are sick. The mine built houses that are already damaged and we must fix ourselves. We want to be compensated for all our costs. We want the mine to stop air pollution. Our livestock are dying and disappearing in the mining fields. We want the mine to pay.”Mama Madise, Ellen Farm
Another resident Gogo Zwane also shared her experiences on living in such close proximity to the mine.
“I came here in 1986, life was good, we never struggled like we are struggling now. I found my cattle dead. They promised us houses, I have fixed my house so many times, fixing the cracks that has been caused by the mine when it blasts. The most painful thing is that we don’t have water, we must hire bakkies to collect water, we stay for close to 2 to 3 weeks without access to water. We used to live well, we had everything we wanted, the stream was passing near the house, we washed our clothes, and children used to play there without any fear. This mine came with poverty and hunger.”
Speaking Out: Climate strike outside Ikwezi Mine
On 25 September for the Global Day of Climate Action the community arranged a climate strike attended by a crowd of over 35 people outside Ikwezi Mine. Despite the mine getting a court order against some community leaders and security guards on alert to stop the protest, it nevertheless went ahead successfully. These repeated intimidatory tactics shows how mining companies globally often undermine the rights of communities and deter meaningful engagement to uplift the quality of life of people and ensure the protection of natural resources.
One of the main groups affected by these destructive mining activities are women, many of whom are the primary caregivers, often travel far to fetch water, and earn an income as part of the informal economy bringing in much needed financial support to their households. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an extra burden on women taking care of their families, livestock and land and still trying to maintain good hygiene practices, often with little or no access to water.
“Women are not born to carry the impacts of climate change. Women are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. Climate change is already here, we don’t need science to tell us that. We are happy that we came together because change must come from us, we must fight harder because government and corporations are ignoring our demands.”Moleboheng Mathafene
Building towards our futures
The last day of the exchange concluded with Khuthala Environmental Care Group donating seeds to community members who were relocated to new houses built by Ikwezi Mine to start their own vegetable gardens and planting trees.
Communities are starting to feel the detrimental impacts of these climate changes and taking bold steps to protect lives and the environment for future generations and our planet. Mining companies and multinational corporations must heed the demands by grassroots organisations calling change towards a Just transition and an equitable future for all.
By Caroline Ntaopane