In South Africa, race is even more important socially and politically m than in the USA. The country also has a strong wilderness movement. These are common traits. But South Africa is very different from the USA. In South Africa, environmental justice is not a movement in defence of 'minority' populations, as it has evolved in the USA. On the contrary, the majority of the population is potentially concerned. An Environmental Justice Networking Forum in South Africa with substantial township and rural organizational membership (Bond, 2000: 60) is trying to mobilize a new constituency focusing attention on a range of urban, environmental health, and pollution-related problems, and also land and water management problems, which had not been considered by the 'wilderness' NGOs. In their view, good environmental management involves protecting people as well as plants and animals. [...] Attempts have been made in South Africa, as elsewhere, to discard the old colonial and post-colonial idea that preservation of Nature cannot be achieved unless indigenous people are removed, and instead to involve local people in managing reserves through offering them economic incentives, in the form of a share of eco-tourist (or even controlled hunting) revenues. Beyond this, a powerful environmental movement will perhaps emerge in the new South Africa which will link the struggle against racism, social injustice and the exploitation of people with the struggle against the abuse of the environment. For instance, land erosion is interpreted as a consequence of the unequal distribution of land, when African populations were crowded into 'homelands' under apartheid. The expansion of tree plantations for paper and paper pulp creates 'green deserts', in a country where a large proportion of the population depends on fuelwood for cooking (Cock and Koch, 1991: 176, 186).
Environmental conflicts in South Africa are often described in the language of environmental justice (Bond, 2000; McDonald, 2001). Thus a conflict in the late 1990s placed environmentalists and local populations against a project near Port Elizabeth for the development of an industrial zone, a new harbour and a smelter of zinc for export, owned by Billinton, a British firm, which would guzzle up electricity and water at cheap rates while poor people cannot get the small amounts of water and electricity they need, or in any case must pay increasing rates under current economic policies. The Billinton project had costs in terms of tourists' revenues because of the threats to a proposed national elephant park extension nearby, to beaches, estuaries, islands and whales (Bond, 2000: 47). There were also costs in terms of the displacement of people from the village of Coega. [...] The life of the people of Coega was already full of memories of displacements under the regime of apartheid. Although Billinton could no longer profit from the lack of voice of the people under apartheid, now - it was alleged - it sought 'to take advantage of the region's desperate need for employment to enable construction of a highly polluting facility that would never be allowed adjacent to a major population centre in the UK or any other European country'.5 A small improvement in the economic situation of the people would be obtained at high social and environmental cost, because of displacement of people, and also because of increased levels of sulphur dioxide, heavy metals, dust and liquid effluents. [...] The environmental impacts which the apartheid regime left behind are now surfacing. There are large liabilities to be faced. Best known is the asbestos scandal, which includes international litigation initiated by victims of asbestosis against British companies, particularly Cape. Thousands of people asked for compensation because of personal damages as a result of Cape's negligence in supervising, producing and distributing asbestos products. The lawyers argue that Cape was aware of the dangers of asbestos at least from 1931 onwards, when in Britain asbestos regulations were introduced. Nevertheless, production continued in South Africa with the same low safety standards until the late 1970s. Medical researchers have found that 80 per cent of Penge's black miners (in Northern Province) who died between 1959 and 1964 had asbestosis. The average age of the victims was 48. Cape operated a mill for 34 years in Prieska, Northern Cape, where 13 per cent of workers' deaths were attributed to mesothelioma, a very painful asbestos-related cancer. Asbestos levels in this mill in 1948 were almost 30 times the maximum UK limit. [...]
Wilderness enthusiasts might come to recognize that economic growth implies stronger and stronger material impacts, and also the disproportionate appropriation of environmental resources and sinks, thus damaging poor and indigenous people whose struggles for livelihood are 0
sometimes fought in idioms (such as the 'sacredness' of Nature) which 3 should be attractive to the wilderness enthusiasts themselves. Such an ^ alliance is not always easy, because often population growth, poverty and, n possibly, cultural traditions which do not contain 'wilderness' values g
lead to encroaching upon and poaching the great wilderness reserves i whose preservation has been so much a product of 'white' civilization, r
_o o notably in eastern Africa and South Africa. [...] From what is still the opposite viewpoint, 'minority group campaigners against pollution accuse mainstream US environmental organizations of obsession with "elitist" goals such as wilderness preservation. A similar chasm has opened up in South Africa recently as radical activists influenced by the American environmental justice movement have rediscovered ecological issues' (Beinart and Coates, 1995: 107), such as the dangers of asbestos and herbicides, the health conditions in mines and the lack of water in black urban settlements. Thus the subaltern third current of environmentalism (environmental justice, the environmentalism of the poor) is consciously present nowadays both in the USA and in South Africa, First World and Third World, two countries whose dominant environmental tradition is the 'cult of wilderness' but where anti-racism and environmentalism are now walking together.
Was this article helpful?