South African Green Revolutionary Council
SOUTHERN AFRICAN GREEN REVOLUTION COUNCIL (SAGRC)
The Southern African Green Revolution Council (SAGRC) was formed in 1983 in Witbank Mpumalanga. Witbank is known for its mining of coal. The town has grown with big mining companies such as Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Xstrata etc. coming in to set up mine to extract coal. The activities of these companies have resulted in communities being affected negatively.
These negative effects can be summed up as:
- Deforestation and Erosion: As part of the process of clearing the way for a coal mine, trees are cut down or burned, plants uprooted and the topsoil scraped away. This results in the destruction of the land (it can no longer be used for planting crops) and soil erosion. The loosened topsoil can be washed down by rains and the sediments get into rivers, streams and waterways. Downstream, they can kill the fish and plant life and block river channels which cause flooding.
- Contaminates Ground Water: The minerals from the disturbed earth can seep into ground water and contaminate water ways with chemicals that are hazardous to our health. An example would be Acid Mine Drainage. Acidic water can flow out of abandoned coal mines. Mining has exposed rocks which contain the sulphur-bearing mineral, Pyrite. This mineral reacts to air and water to form sulphuric acid. When it rains, the diluted acid gets into rivers and streams and can even seep into underground sources of water.
- Chemical, Air & Dust Pollution: Underground mining allows coal companies to dig for coal deeper into the ground. The problem is that huge amounts of earth and rock are brought up from the bowels of the earth. These mining wastes can become toxic when they are exposed to air and water. Examples of toxins are mercury, arsenic, fluorine and selenium. The amount of dust generated in mining operations can be carried to nearby towns by the wind. These dust particles can cause all kinds of health problems for humans who are exposed to it.
- Methane in the Atmosphere: Coal mine methane emissions from underground mining are often caught and used as town fuel, chemical feedstock, vehicle fuel and industrial fuel – but very rarely is everything captured. Methane is less prevalent in the atmosphere as compared to carbon dioxide, but it is 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas.
- Coal Fires: Fires from underground mines can burn for centuries! These fires release smoke into the atmosphere - smoke which contains carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and other toxic greenhouse gases.
- Health Hazards: Coal dust inhalation can cause black lung disease. Miners and those who live in nearby towns are the most affected. Cardiopulmonary disease, hypertension, COPD, and kidney disease are found in higher than normal rates in people who live near coal mines.
- Displacement of Communities: All of these negative effects force people to move to other places as their air and water gets polluted and expanding coal mines make use of more and more of their habitat.
Mpumalanga is mentioned in the National Development Plan (NDP) of the government as an area contributing disproportionately to greenhouse gas emission and air pollution in South Africa. In 2007 the Emalahleni area was declared the second National Air Quality Priority Area in South Africa due to concern over air pollution from the coal mines, metal smelting and coal-fired power plants
On 23 April 2013 the Mpumalanga Provincial Executive Council put the Emalahleni Local Municipality under administration after the municipality did not deliver in terms of the constitutional mandate to ensure the provision of basic service. Some of the problems faced by the municipality include: inconsistent water and electrical supply; poor state of municipal infrastructure like roads, electricity and waste water treatment plants; allegations of a high level of engagement in corrupt activities by some officials; and high costs of doing business with external service providers. Emalahleni residents still complained early in September 2013 that the municipality failed to provide them with water and electricity.
Through the mining of coal Emalahleni has always had linkages with Southern Africa, a significant number of miners are from the Southern African countries. Coal trade and business link up with Southern African countries. Furthermore, Witbank lies on the N4 Maputo Development Corridor linking South Africa to Mozambique and Namibia. It is for this reason the Council calls itself Southern African Green Revolution Council.
Both Mpumalanga province and Emalahleni have experienced population growth over the past two decades. In the case of Emalahleni much of this growth has been attributed to in-migration to the area by people in search of economic opportunities. The population size increased noticeably in Mpumalanga Province from 3 123 869 in the 1996 census to 3 365 554 in the 2001 census and to 4 039 939 in the 2011 census. This represents a 22,7% increase that is 1,1% higher than the national population increase of 21, 6% over the same period.
According to data from Global Insight formal employment in the Witbank area has risen by about 29% from 73 437 jobs in 1996 to just over 105 000 jobs in 2011 while informal employment has tripled from 7190 jobs in 1996 to nearly 23 000 jobs in 2011. According to the Emalahleni IDP, the unemployment rate has decreased from 38,4% to 27,3%.
Coal mining is the largest industry in Emalahleni, and one of the oldest. Between them the Emalahleni and Highveld coalfields produce about 80% of the country’s coal. As the seams are relatively shallow, much coal extraction in the area takes place through open cast mining methods, although underground “bord-and-pillar” and other processes are also used.
A number of large international companies operate mines in the area, including Anglo-American, Exxaro, Sasol, BHP Billiton and Xstrata who are among the biggest producers in South Africa accounting for 80% of coal production in South Africa along with several smaller companies. The immediate concern of Southern African Green Revolution Council is the struggle against the mine companies around the negative effects brought about by mining of coal.