Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) Media Statement - ArcelorMittal South Africa 2021 AGM Participation and further Protest Action
20 May 2021 – Today, ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) will hold its Annual General meeting. Due to to Covid-19 the AGM will be virtual. The Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) will once again participate in the AGM to air grievances relating to the company’s failure to protect the environment by reducing its air and water pollution as well as land contamination.
Local communities living in the Vaal Triangle and surrounding areas bear the brunt of AMSA’s pollution. Community members participating in AMSA’s AGM as activist shareholders, remain concerned about the company’s failure to transform its approach to pollution and engagement with communities. We believe that AMSA continues the unscrupulous legacy of its parent company, Iscor Mittal Steel.
According to Samson Mokoena of VEJA, “the culture of secrecy at AMSA was inherited from its parent company Iscor which was a state-owned company that privatised in the 1990s. The company destroyed and poisoned the community of Steel Valley, west of its operation.” He says further that “Iscor denied that it was poisoning the community and refused to disclose documents that show how pollution is moving from its operations to local people and why the company is not informing the community about the pollution.
This year, communities will participate inside and outside the AGM, while maintaining a strong digital media presence. “We will use all avenues available to us to ensure that our demands are heard by management, shareholders, and directors of ArcelorMittal,” says Kenny Matili of VEJA.
VEJA has been challenging the steelmaking company for years. In 2002, the Steel Valley Community and participants from all over the world, confronted the ArcelorMittal Group at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. It has raised issues around the company's refusal to disclose their master plan, between 2008 and 2009. VEJA and its international partners, Friends of the Earth and affected communities from Kazakhstan, Liberia, US, Czech Republic, attended the international AGM in Luxembourg where a set of demands were tabled before the ArcelorMittal Group Chairman and CEO, Lakshmi Mittal.
We note that the government of Department of Environmental Affairs is taking some action against AMSA. Summons was served on the company in 2019 instituting criminal proceedings for three violations of its Atmospheric Emissions Licence issued to Vanderbijlpark Works. This year the court accepted AMSA plea agreement and the company was sentenced to a fine and ordered to make a payment to the national environment department amounting to R3.64 million.
However, these steps are not enough. AMSA is in non-compliance with a number of laws and regulations, related to their water use licence, zero-effluent discharge and air pollution. They have also applied for and obtained the suspension of environmental standards which are in place to protect the environment and people’s health and well-being.
Communities of Sebokeng, Sharpeville, Bophelong, Boipatong, and Sasolburg will again be protesting outside ArcelorMittal South Africa Vanderbaijlpark, to hand over a memorandum of demands to management, demanding that ArcelorMittal comply with environmental laws and standards and stop the pollution of air and water. AMSA also needs to manage the safety of their operations and ensure that workers’ rights are protected.
We also wish to note the intimidation of VEJA activists in relation to its notification to protest. On 19 May 2021, at Emfuleni Local municipality called a meeting called in terms of section 4(2) (a) of the Regulation of Gatherings Act (RGA). This after VEJA had notified the Municipality on 10 May 2021. VEJA had also emailed AMSA senior management, Mohamed Adam and Johan Hattingh, to inform them of the intended protest.
At the start of the meeting, the presiding officer, Solly Maduna explained the level 1 Covid Regulations and requested more information about why the protest was taking place. VEJA representatives (Samson Mokoena, David Mokoena and Kenny Matili) explained the reasons and indicated that they had duly informed AMSA, via email and on the phone.
Mr Maduna then demanded that VEJA produce written confirmation of notification to AMSA. Two representatives from AMSA (Piet Gatobe and Kamu Baleni) claimed that they had no knowledge of the protest which is strange because VEJA had informed AMSA and even received a request for further information from Mohamed Adam.
The meeting was adjourned and could not proceed as the officer demanded a written letter from AMSA.
As VEJA we are committed to “peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, demonstrate, picket, and to present petitions” as enshrined in the Constitution which is the supreme law of our country.
We are adamant that we have complied with relevant provisions of the RGA, in that we have given notice in writing and attended a meeting when called to do so. The responsible officer in the meeting did not discuss the contents of our notice nor did he prohibit our protest in terms of the provisions of section 5 of the RGA.
In the circumstances, our protest will take place in accordance with the contents of the notice and in accordance with the provisions of section 8, but subject to the provisions of sections 5 and 6 of the RGA.