Media Advisory


groundWork Launches its 2016 Report: 'The Destruction of the Highveld. Part 1: Digging Coal'.

Arbor, Mpumalanga, 08 November 2016 – The Destruction of the Highveld is being presented to people in the village of Arbor, Mpumalanga, on 8th November 2016, and in eMalahleni on the 9th. Arbor village is dumped upon by coal dust, people have been rellocated, their homes have cracked and air polluted by the local mines.  The groundWork [1] Report is an annual report on the state of environmental justice. It looks at the ways in which environmental injustice is imposed on people but also at how people resist it. This report celebrates the resistance of the people of the Highveld. In a context where irresponsible government has buried its head in a discard coal dump, it looks forward to the people leading a debate on life after coal.

The report is also being simultaneously launched online and will also be available to the rest of the public 8th November on groundWork's website. The 2016 groundWork Report documents the social and environmental cost of coal mining. It will be followed in 2017 with a report on the costs of burning coal in power stations and industrial plants.

The eastern Highveld is fertile and well-watered. It is the source of several major rivers, including the Vaal, and a critical food producing region. Over a century of mining and burning coal has damaged large parts of the Highveld. The flow of water is interrupted and the land is destroyed by underground and open cast coal mining. The land is also coated in coal dust from blasting. Groundwater and rivers are contaminated by acid mine drainage to the point that whole catchments are turning into wastelands. This is made worse by heavily polluted industrial effluent and municipal sewage leaks.

Environmental ruin has been accompanied by the impoverishment of the people. Over half of the people living in South Africa are poor and the poverty rate is amplified on the Highveld. More than half the people are also without work and it is a constant refrain that those born in the area do not pass the medical tests for work in neighbouring mines and factories. For the most part then, workers are brought into the area from elsewhere. This adds a further twist to already harsh gender and social relations and the rate of local unemployment.

This report is just one of the many tools groundWork has used in trying to support the voice of the poor, marginalised and disenfranchised Highveld communities. The report would’ve never been a reality without the experiences and knowledge sharing of the community. Launching the report in the Highveld first is also a way of creating stronger community bonds, by using community voices to create awareness and spread the lifesaving message on the dangers of coal mining.

The Johannesburg launch will follow on 22 November 2016.


David Hallowes
Author and Researcher, groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa
Tel (m): +27 (0) 83 262 4922

Victor Munnik
Author and Researcher, groundwork, Friends of the Earth South Africa
Tel (m): +27 (0) 82 906 3699

Nombulelo Shange
Media and Communications Manager, groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa
Tel (w): +27 (0) 33 342 5662
Tel (m): +27 (0) 74 874 2177

[1] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa, and increasingly Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Coal, Climate and Energy Justice, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International