Little Lizokhanya makes a regular trip to the doctor every month, where he is given medication and put on an oxygen machine. The monthly consultation costs R700. Ngwenya and her partner are unemployed. They use the child’s social grant to pay for the consultation.
“These mines are killing us. Even our homes are cracked. There is dust, black dust everywhere, everyday. What must we do?”
The Groundwork Trust and the Vukani Environmental Justice Alliance Movement in Action have brought court action to compel the minister of environmental affairs to enforce and implement the highveld Priority Area Air Quality Management Plan.
The government declared the highveld Priority Area (HPA) in November 2007 because “poor air quality and elevated concentrations of criteria pollutants occur due to the concentration of industrial and non-industrial sources”.
The priority area covers 31,106 km2, including parts of Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces, with a single metropolitan municipality, three district municipalities and nine local municipalities.
The applicants in the case want the court to “declare that the poor air quality in the highveld Priority Area is in breach of residents’ section 24(a) right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing”.
The respondents in the matter are the minister of environmental affairs, the National Air Quality Officer, the president of the Republic of S A and the MECs for agriculture, rural development, land and environmental affairs in Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
In their submission the applicants told the court that “the poor air quality has significant and direct affects on human health and wellbeing, causing premature deaths and chronic respiratory and other illnesses. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the health affects caused by air pollution.”
The Centre for Environmental Rights has estimated that 2,239 annual deaths, together with 9,500 cases of bronchitis among children aged six to 12 could be attributable to coal-related air pollution in S A.
Judgment in the matter heard in the North Gauteng High Court on May 17 and 18 was reserved. — Mukurukuru Media.