Judge orders government to stop Highveld pollution

Mpumalanga-based environmentalist Benjamin Magongo has welcomed the Pretoria High Court ruling, which ordered the government to pass regulations to implement and enforce the Highveld Priority Area Air Quality Management Plan aimed at cleaning up the air in the Mpumalanga Highveld to meet health-based air quality standards.

On Friday, the Gauteng division of the high court recognized the poor air quality in the Mpumalanga Highveld region as a breach of residents’ constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being.

“I am proud of both the environmental protection organization and the legal team that stood up against the top industrial companies that pollute our fresh air,” said Promise Mabilo,   coordinator for  Mpumalanga community organization Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action.

“Communities and tribal councils must stand up and demonstrate their support towards clean air campaigns.”

The air pollution issue was taken to court in 2019 by Vukani and fellow environmental justice group Groundwork.

The groups, who were represented by lawyers from the centre for Environmental Rights, were demanding that the government clean up the toxic air in that part of South Africa.

“I am so happy that we have succeeded with this court case. This is not only a victory for the applicants and affected communities living in the Highveld area, but it is also a victory for the affected communities fighting for their right to clean air in other priority areas – the Vaal and the Waterberg,” said Mabilo.

The court found that Environment Minister Barbara Creecy has a legal duty to pass these regulations and that she has “unreasonably delayed” in preparing and initiating regulations to give effect to the Highveld Plan.

In her judgment, Judge Colleen Collis stated: “When failure to meet air quality standards persists over a long period, there is a greater likelihood that the health, well-being, and human rights of the people subjected to that air is being threatened and infringed upon.”

Sasol and Eskom are regarded as big air polluters with their huge operations that are situated in the Mpumalanga Highveld.

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