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Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

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Why the Centre for Environmental Rights endorses #UniteBehind

4 August 2017 at 4:13 pm

The Centre for Environmental Rights does not endorse any political party.

We do, however, believe in a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. We also recognise and promote the Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic of South Africa, aimed at improving the quality of life of all citizens and at freeing the potential of every person who lives here.

We are inspired by and work to promote the constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

In recent years, we have seen a significant and distressing deterioration in environmental governance in our country. Governance has become less transparent and less accountable, and decision-making consistently contributes to the ongoing decline of our environmental quality.

Despite our progressive environmental right, and the promulgation of comprehensive environmental legislation, the country continues to face a barrage of environmentally devastating activities which are poorly regulated by the state. The large-scale water pollution, soil degradation and very poor air quality on the Mpumalanga Highveld, caused by inadequately regulated coal mining and power generation, are prime examples.

The Ministers and Departments of Mineral Resources, Water & Sanitation and Environmental Affairs continue to make decisions that violate their obligations to hold the environment and water resources in public trust, fail to promote sustainable development, and do not benefit the people of South Africa. Ignoring the scientific evidence presented by civil society organisations, authorities continue to approve coal mining in water-sensitive areas, and to approve new coal-fired power despite evidence of devastating health, water, soil, air quality, and climate change impacts.

The pitifully inadequate investment in compliance and enforcement capacity in all the departments responsible for natural resource governance continues to undermine commitments to responsible environmental governance and health and well-being. It also means we are not making progress in our commitments to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Many private companies exploit this situation for private gain, are unwilling to take any real responsibility for the environmental damage they cause, have little regard for the people harmed by their activities, and force the state’s hand by imposing their own agendas in relation to policy and laws designed to restrict their detrimental impacts.

Corruption is rife in our state-owned enterprises, particularly in Eskom, which owns and manages almost all of our polluting coal-power plants, supplied by a range of polluting coal mines.

It is clear that decisions made in these circumstances impact extremely negatively on South Africa’s ability to guarantee environmental rights for future generations.

The effects of all of these problems are borne largely by marginalised and previously disadvantaged communities. These communities have little power to hold the state or companies to account, and limited ability and resources to mobilise to have their voices heard.

For all these reasons, the Centre endorses the #UniteBehind campaign, aimed at turning South Africa back onto the path towards a just and equal South Africa: a South Africa that cares about its people, and that is prepared to resist corporate demands for short-term private gain in order to defend human rights, environmental justice, and the rights of future generations.

These are the founding principles of #UniteBehind (


Our struggle is for a just and equal South Africa — a democracy in which people participate in decisions affecting their lives.

Government must be elected, open, accountable, ethical and effective. They must put the needs of the people first. This applies to anyone who exercises responsibility or power in society. But, government commands resources on our behalf and therefore it must set the example.

Over the years, our organisations, movements, unions and communities, including faith communities, have called for a different society, culture and economy based on these demands:

Competent, honest government is necessary to ensure that:

  • Every person in our country feels and is safe from all forms of violence, including hunger.
  • Education from early childhood to tertiary level is free, decolonised, equal, public and of high quality.
  • The health system is integrated to guarantee every person quality health care as a right.
  • Free childcare facilities are available for all who need them.
  • Every woman, girl and boy is safe from rape and all forms of gender-based violence.
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people enjoy freedom and equality.
  • Racism whether structural or personal is confronted and rooted out.
  • Immigrant, refugees and asylum seekers live in dignity.
  • All youth have access to culture, recreation and sport as a right.
  • Cities employ just land policies aimed at ending race and class-based apartheid segregation.
  • All land policies, urban and rural, are based on justice and redress for Black African, Coloured and Indian people, particularly working-class and poor people.
  • Informal settlements are upgraded and residents have a guaranteed right to a home.

Our society is the most unequal in the world with the highest reported rate of unemployment, particularly Black African and Coloured youth unemployment. Our households and individuals carry a crippling debt burden. Every one of these demands requires both radical economic wealth creation and redistribution.

We understand that our economy is subject to global market forces and powerful global companies. These forces can be overcome but government, unions, social movements and political parties must unite with our allies internationally to ensure a just, fair and equal world economy.

As a part of this struggle government and business in South Africa must ensure that:

  • Workers earn a living wage and more jobs are created.
  • As jobs are replaced by machines, we move progressively towards a universal income grant and universal dividend.
  • We have a just and sustainable energy future based on solar, wind and other renewable sources.
  • Government is freed from the grip of public and private sector corruption.
  • Taxes on super-wealth and international financial transactions increase the state’s income to reduce its debt and create wealth.
  • Criminal and corrupt transfers of money from South Africa by companies or individuals are punished.
  • Racial and class domination is eradicated through a just redistribution of wealth.

Our responsibility as individuals, households and organisations require building:

  • Families where every child, woman and man is equally valued and respected.
  • Our homes, schools, workplaces, streets, recreation, sports, culture, places of worship and social media are freed from anger, injustice, inequality, racism and the rule of men.
  • A society where individuals and specifically leaders recognise our privilege and power in every form. Domination through race, gender identity, class, nationality, sexuality, ability, language, education and sex must be resisted by all of us.

We want to discuss and improve this vision. Divided movements cannot overcome these powerful obstacles. #UniteBehind must be a space for organisation and action but equally also to discuss and disagree with dignity.

The #UniteBehind coalition consists of: Alternative Information and Development Centre, Centre for Environmental Rights, District 6 Working Committee, Equal Education, Financial Sector Campaign Coalition, Ndifuna Ukwazi, People’s Health Movement, PHA Food & Farming Campaign, Right 2 Know, SA First Forum, Save SA, Section 27, the Social Justice Coalition, Sonke Gender Justice, South African Women in Public Transport Commuters, the Treatment Action Campaign, Triangle Project, Trust for Community Outreach and Education, the Women and Democracy Initiative and the Women’s Legal Centre.