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Olifants River Catchment – Draft CSO Position

Olifants River Catchment – Draft CSO Position

Published by The Legal Resources Centre  24 January 2018

During 2015, 2016 & 2017 approximately 150 representatives of Civil Society Organisations in the Olifants Catchment have been working together to seek a better outcome for the water and land of the Olifants catchment. This platform for dialogue and seeking localised solutions to challenges has resulted in the development of a position statement based on a collective vision.

It states the following (summarised – full version below):

We, the Civil Society Organisations resident and operative in the Olifants Catchment, believe the following points represent our position and are a basis upon which we seek to represent public interest. Under each point we provide a principle from which we develop our position. Each position statement is a work in progress and will be developed over time with the inputs from various CSOs:

Working together: We believe that CSOs can achieve more if they stand together in a unified manner in order to represent issues of common interest. But what does it mean to work together? Collective action is about working on shared goals and acknowledging our context as our shared home: that we live in a system and our activities have impact across the system. It is our collective responsibility to look after that system and make sure that it can support us now and in the future. For example, what happens in the Upper Catchment (eMalahleni) affects the Lower Catchment (Mozambique).

Managing Waste: The Olifants Catchment is an important economic hub for South Africa in terms of the extraction of coal for electricity production, water for developing towns and cities, mining of a variety of important minerals, specifically platinum and other heavy metals, and large scale food production through irrigation schemes. However as these activities expand there are the negative side effects of waste production. One of the most important challenges facing the Olifants Catchment is the growing waste issue in the forms of air pollution from electricity production and water contamination from domestic and industry. Overuse of agricultural chemicals and pesticides and solid and hazardous waste coming from number of sources are also creating grave issues. These sources are extremely diverse and very difficult to manage because they include industry, mining, sewage works, domestic, food processing, agriculture, etc. creating a toxic environment. We need decisive action and much more than just recycling.

Access to clean water: Water quality is a monumental issue in the Olifants Catchment by virtue of the activities that take place in the catchment. These historically have had devastating impacts on our water resources. The major culprits are commercial agriculture, mining, industry and municipal waste water disposal.  But what do we mean by clean water? This is defined by the particular use for which that water is planned, for example the standards for drinking water quality are very high and have to be met under the SANS241 standard.  Water for industry and irrigation needs to comply with different requirements in order to meet standards such as Global Gap, etc. It is imperative where drinking water is supplied that the SANS241 standards are adhered to through rigorous water quality monitoring programs. It is an obligation for municipalities to supply water for drinking under these standards. Where communities are exposed to poor quality or contaminated water they have legal grounds to address this as a violation of their rights.

Care for our natural resources: What is a natural resource and which ones are of value to different groups? Resources valuable for us are the ones that keep us alive, provide us with a livelihood and ensure the health of the ecosystem that we live in.  About 42% of the land in the Olifants Catchment is officially classified as endangered or vulnerable.

Improving our skills and ability to do things: Knowledge is the facts, information and skills acquired through experience and education. Skill is expertise, the ability to do something well. Competence is the ability to combine knowledge with a skill within a space of time. We need knowledge of how to apply skills.

Getting Young people involved: The total population for the Olifants River Catchment is estimated to be about 4.2million people, about 70% of whom live in rural areas. More than half of those people are under 15 years of age.  Only around 21% of the total population is employed. About 900 000 people receive some kind of social grant from the South African government.

Making sure we remain healthy: The Olifants River faces overwhelming challenges affecting human health due to pollution from industry, agriculture, domestic and mismanaged waste.  Contaminated water, water shortages, air and land pollution as well as unemployment and poverty all contribute to vulnerability in communities and increase dependency, rather than building resilience and encouraging self sufficiency.

Making a living in our catchment: Unemployment in the Olifants Catchment is approximately 79%, pointing to overwhelming poverty and heavy dependence on social grants. CSOs are concerned at how dependent communities are on mining considering the environmental devastation resulting from extraction and how few mines honour their agreements with communities after initiating dependencies. Communities’ vulnerability is increased as degraded environments do not support initiatives of self sustenance and increase uncertainty of the future.

Reduce dependency on mining: Communities are suffering as a result of mining in their areas. Where industry and mines assert that mines create jobs and put food on tables, we argue that agriculture puts food on tables, and mining destroys agricultural land and water, affecting communities’ ability to grow their own food. Ineffectual regulatory bodies and broken promises made by mines mean that mines are breaking the law and damaging communities by not honouring SLPs, as well as irreversibly destroying environments when EIAs are not adhered to.

Enough food for everyone in the catchment: The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign states that 53% of South Africans do not have enough food; it is estimated that 14 million people go to bed hungry each night. With chronic unemployment, their environment polluted and water unavailable or contaminated, communities’ abilities to grow their own food are severely compromised. In addition, GMO seed stock creates dependencies on corporations for food supply, which is contrary to resilience building principles.

Involvement in catchment accountability: It is clear that those tasked with the responsibility of regulating industry and ensuring compliance are either unwilling, understaffed or incapable of ensuring accountability in the Olifants Catchment. In a watchdog role, Civil Society is perfectly positioned to work with regulators and accountability agencies, for the good of all.

Support honesty and transparency: In the current climate of corruption revealed, it is imperative that honesty and transparency prevail so that systems can be repaired and resources shared equitably. A healthy society cannot be built on dishonest and un-transparent activities where decisions are taken in secret and matters are hidden from the public view, often causing for suspicion. Civil Society is often a victim to dishonest and un-transparent activities.

Ensuring good service delivery: Communities in the Olifants Catchment are severely affected by poor or non-existent service delivery which constitutes an infringement of our human rights. Many people do not have aces to clean drinking water and sanitation services are some of the weakest in South Africa. This has a knock on effect for peoples’ health as well as their ability to perform at school and lead healthy productive lives. Poor service delivery is the basis for a miserable existence especially in highly populated areas. 

Supporting good leadership: Robust and accountable leadership is imperative in our local and regional areas to ensure accountability, transparency and law abiding behaviour by all corporate, municipal and community members. It is unacceptable that leaders profit from deals whilst communities remain without benefit.

You can read the FULL DRAFT here: Olifants Catchment_Civil Society Organisations_Position statement DRAFT.

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