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Samson Mokoena Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance

Methane bubbles popping on the river's surface, sewage pipes clogged with tampons, diapers and toilet paper, and the smell of faeces lingering in the air. These scenes are everyday realities for residents of Emfuleni - a municipality southwest of Johannesburg, South Africa - as the breakdown of the area's pipes, pumps and wastewater treatment plants causes sewage to overflow into one of South Africa's largest rivers, resulting in water and air contamination.

Samson Mokoena from the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance says a number of industries, companies and municipalities have contributed to pollution levels; and not just the Emfuleni local Municipality.

"These industries have been killing us since the 1880s. They pollute our air and water. When we work there, we get sick."
The Vaal Triangle is one of the most polluted areas in South Africa. It is situated in the South of Johannesburg in Gauteng Province, sharing its borders with Free State Province.It is made up of towns such as Vanderbijlpark, Sasolburg, Sebokeng, Evaton and their surrounding areas.

Samson started talking to people about a new social movement in the Vaal that would fight for people’s right to clean air and clean water. Everyone was incredibly giving. We all face the same problems with industry. So, in 2006, they founded the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance.

The Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) is an alliance of five environmental justice organization with our focus on air quality and health, water quality, waste, energy and climate change in the Vaal area.

The mission of VELA is to unite communities to ensure Environmental Justice in the vaal Community Organisations. They are a shared resource established to serve the common interest of participating NGOs and CBOs in the Vaal Triangle concerning environmental issues.

The world’s largest steel producer, ArcelorMittal, was fined this month for violating three atmospheric emission license conditions at its Vanderbijlpark operations, south of Johannesburg.

Attorneys at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) have collaborated with ELAW for years to help the community-based Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) hold ArcelorMittal’s Vanderbijlpark facility accountable for polluting practices.

ELAW Staff Scientist Dr. Mark Chernaik helped analyze ArcelorMittal South Africa’s (AMSA) 7,000-page Master Plan, which was released in 2015 following a successful CER case instituted on VEJA’s behalf, which commenced with a request for access to environmental information. When this was refused by AMSA, VEJA challenged the decision through litigation and succeeded. It also won the appeal AMSA instituted against that judgement in the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Mokoena says the Vaal River pollution crisis could have been avoided if authorities had taken action when activists and environmentalists warned them of the impending disaster more than a decade ago. There’s a lack of enforcement at the department of water affairs and sanitation as they are the custodians of water resources and they’re the ones issuing these multiple polluters with licences.
The still mill used to continue it´s operation with high levels of pollutants going into the air at night when everyone is asleep. The work of Samson and the VEJA is key to hold de company accountable and protect the rights to clean air and water of the communities living in the area.
Analyzing and interpreting scientific information related to water, ground, and soil pollution data in AMSA’s various annual and bi-annual External Audit Reports has helped keep the pressure up on governmental departments to take action against AMSA.

Credits:

1. Kool; South Africa, Johannesburg: Fire sky; September 16, 2009; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). 2. Pascal Parent; Suikerbosrand River; December 21, 2014, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). 3. Babak Fakhamzadeh; The Vaal river; May 27, 2007; (CC BY-NC 2.0). 4. Official logo ‘Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance’. 5. Official logo ‘Arcelor Mittal’. 6. astrid westvang; Steel mill; November 3, 2017; (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). 7. Nane Kratzke; South African Sunset; August 14, 2016; (CC0 1.0).