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Impacts of coal megaprojects in South Africa

Boom and Bust in the Waterberg is the title of a report published by environmental justice organization groundWork in March. It documents the history of coal megaprojects that have reshaped this remote corner of the country.

It also addresses the impacts of coal megaprojects and warns about how a third boom is expected in Waterberg, which is considered South Africa´s next coal frontier.

The first boom of different coal megaprojects was in the 1980’s and the second began in  2007. Now, they have the Medupi Power Station, a dry-cooled coal-fired power station being built by Eskom near Lephalale in Limpopo province, South Africa.

According to the press release issued by the organization “The report stretches and spreads along five decades of unsustainable economic climaxes that lead to socio-economic explosions and meltdowns, which manifest to bigger problems and little solutions, if any”.

For example, “the Mokolo River has been irreversibly damaged and the air is heavily polluted by burning coal discard heaps at the mine, dust from coal stockpiles and ash dumps, and the enormous emissions from Matimba and Medupi”.

Besides the environmental impacts, there are also social impacts such as unemployment, drug trafficking, criminal activities, teen pregnancies and young people dropping out of school.

In fact, unemployment rose from 18% in 2001 to 22% in 2011 and the workers are now being ‘demobbed’.

In groundWork they are particularly concerned that “having always avoided doing anything about SO2 pollution, Eskom is now avoiding compliance with minimum emission standards”. “Eskom captures scientific research to justify not acting on pollution and has tried to keep its research under wraps. This puts people’s lives at risk”, the organization added in the press release.

Finally, groundWork insists with the fact that another energy future is necessary “as a matter of survival” and requires a rapid phase out of coal and a just transition to people’s power and a more equal society.

To know more about this report, RWR interviewed David Hallowes, researcher from groundWork/ Friends of the Earth South Africa.