groundWork is a non-profit environmental justice service and developmental organization working primarily in Southern Africa in the areas of Climate & Energy Justice, Coal, Environmental Health, Global Green and Healthy Hospitals, and Waste. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International.


South Africa: Activists in Mining Areas Harassed - Government, Companies Should Protect Environment Defenders

16 April 2019 – Community activists in mining areas in South Africa face harassment, intimidation, and violence, the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report and video released today. The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilize to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants.

The 74-page report "We Know Our Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities” and video cites activists’ reports of intimidation, violence, damage to property, use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities in highlighting the negative impacts of mining projects on their communities. Municipalities often impose barriers to protest on organizers that have no legal basis. Government officials have failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse, and some mining companies resort to frivolous lawsuits and social media campaigns to further curb opposition to their projects. The government has a constitutional obligation to protect activists.

In communities across South Africa, the rights of activists to peacefully organize to protect their livelihoods and the environment from the harm of mining are under threat,” said Matome Kapa, attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights. “South African authorities should address the environmental and health concerns related to mining, instead of harassing the activists voicing these concerns.”

Read the full media release here.

Roundup still in SA despite cancer fears

08 April 2019 - Pharmaceuticals company Bayer says its subsidiary Monsanto will continue to sell its Roundup weed killer in SA despite a US jury last month awarding nearly $80m to a man who claimed it had given him cancer. According to court documents, Edwin Hardeman, 70, used Roundup for 30 years. Though no direct link between Hardeman's cancer and Roundup has been confirmed, the jury voted in his favour on the basis that there were insufficient warnings about the risk of using the product. Last year, a jury awarded Dewayne Johnson, who has non Hodgkin's lymphoma, $78m in damages for his exposure to Roundup.

A spokesperson for Bayer cited 800 studies, including a 2018 National Cancer Institute study that found there was no link between glyphosate based herbicides and cancer, as evidence of the products' safety. However, 2015 research by the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer found that gly phosate was a probable carcinogen, or cancer causing substance.

Rico Euripidou, groundWork's Health Campaign Manager, said that most farm workers in SA were not properly informed about Roundup's hazardous properties, sometimes couldn't read or understand the labels and did not have equipment to protect them from exposure. "Most farm workers I have observed especially in the forestry sector who apply Roundup do so with leaking knapsacks on their naked backs, or soaked through T shirts during the many calendar days when they are applying the weedkiller. If they get sick they are taken to a rural clinic which is not equipped to understand nor manage or measure their exposure and treatment, and instead if they are too sick to work they will in all likelihood be sent home to deal with their health impacts them selves".

Read the full Sunday Times article here.

Jon White

Tributes to Jon White

28 March 2019 - On Thursday, 14 March 2019, Jon White, groundWork's founding board member and long-time chairperson passed away after a yearlong battle with cancer. The groundWork staff and the Board of Trustees will sorely miss Jon.

You can read the tributes written by Chris Albertyn (Founding member of Earthlife Africa and first Director of the Environmental Justice Networking Forum) and David Hallowes (groundWork Researcher here.

groundWork pays tribute to Denny Larson

Denny Larson

27 March 2019 - I remember the booming voice in the Texanco oil refinery passage way.  “Don’t go there, back off.’ It was in response to an oil industry hack questioning the science behind the air pollution sampling system, the community-developed Bucket Brigade, that the man with the booming voice trail-blazed throughout the world. 

Yes, it is a strange name, the Bucket Brigade, for an air pollution sampling system.  But it’s name aside, it was an invention which brought science into grassroots communities and the environmental movement domain, giving people the capacity and the intellectual confidence, through hard evidence, to challenge power.  That man was Denny Larson, founder of the Global Community Monitor. He was a man who was not easy to work with, nor live with.  But then very few activists are – ask my wife.  But what he was dedicated to at all cost, even at times to the detriment of himself, was making sure that people had power via science.

I got to know Denny when, in 1995, we were challenging the ex-Mobil oil refinery 143m from my then-house.  We sent a message to the oil refinery activists list serve in the US – yes the early days of list serves – and Denny was the first to respond with advice and the Good Neighbour Handbook. This was to be a start of a long relationship.

Read the full tribute written by groundWork Director, Bobby Peek, here.

groundWork releases 2018 Report: Boom or Bust in the Waterberg - A history of coal mega projects

12 March 2018 - The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5oC leaves you with faint hope even as it waters down its messages. It warns of the urgency of addressing climate change and hope lies in the message that democracy is at the core of getting us out of the dark pit of the so-called realism that avoids real action.

Social justice and equity are important in how groundWork understands environmental justice. For us, it is about solidarity and equity. I do not have much faith in politicians taking the IPCC seriously but, even if they do, the report allows them too many loop-holes. They will take them as a free pass for business as usual.

So, reports such as Boom and Bust in the Waterberg are important. There are no loopholes. It makes it clear: get out of coal, get out of fossil fuels. But more importantly, this will not happen if there is no mobilisation by society, if there is no solidarity between workers and communities, if there are no linkages between the urban and the rural, between those who have and those who do not.

Mega projects have repeatedly failed society. The report picks up on the essence of how politicians and officials lie about the numbers to get these mega projects going. They over estimated the growth of energy demand to justify the decision to invest in Medupi and Kusile. The community did not ask for them, but energy poverty was used as a pretext. The reality is that the politicians, the Energy Intensive Users Group and Eskom itself pushed for it. They wanted big power stations designed to supply big industry. Now big industry does not want to acknowledge its role and responsibility in the meltdown but demands a cut price on power for industry.

You can read the media release here.

You can download the full report here.

CER condemns State Security Agency spying on civil society organisations

10 March 2019 - The Centre for Environmental Rights condemns in the strongest terms the “active monitoring” undertaken by the State Security Agency (SSA) of civil society organisations, as reported in the December 2018 Report of the High-Level Review Panel on the SSA released by the Presidency over the weekend.

“While many civil society organisations now take standard precautionary measures to protect our organisations, our work and our staff from all forms and sources of surveillance and attack, it is chilling to see official confirmation of the use of state resources to spy on and interfere in the work of civil society organisations,” says Melissa Fourie, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Rights. “It is important to remember that the organisations named in the SSA report work in the public interest to promote Constitutional democratic objectives like free speech, open democracy, a healthy environment and a safe climate. These Constitutional values and rights should be objectives shared by and actively realised by the state. The SSA report suggests that state machinery was used to undermine Constitutional principles so fundamental to our democracy.”

Next month, the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice and Human Rights Watch will publish a report on the threats faced by environmental rights defenders in South Africa from both the state and corporates.

For queries, contact CER Executive Director Melissa Fourie on mfourie@cer.org.za or CER Deputy Director Wandisa Phama on wphama@cer.org.za.

For more news and our news archives click here, or here to access our collection of media items.