“People need to understand that it is their constitutional right to live in an environment that is not harmful to their wellbeing. Nature and the environment cannot fight for itself. It is us who must protect it for generations to come,” says Themba Patrick Khumalo.
When he cofounded Sukumani Environmental Justice (SEJ) in 2019, its goal was to assist coal mining-affected communities in challenging the industry and to highlight the effects of Ikwezi Mining’s operations on his hometown of Dannhauser. The mining company’s promises of job creation had originally filled the community with hope, but the reality of coal mining in the area was: blasting damaging property, cattle losing grazing land, local rivers and dams being contaminated and people feeling the effects of inhaling coal dust. So, when Ikwezi Mining announced its plans to expand operations to the nearby town of Shepstone Lake, Khumalo and his SEJ colleagues leapt into action. They organised community meetings with key stakeholders and the Shepstone Lake community, in which they discussed the effects of coal mining.
When it became clear that people were unhappy, SEJ conducted a door-to-door petition to force the company to put forward a clear plan on how it would minimise its effects on the environment and people’s health. And, as that plan is yet to emerge, SEJ was able to halt Ikwezi Mining’s operations. Khumalo believes educating communities is the key to ensuring the protection of the environment — and the people who call it home — for generations to come. Along with two other SEJ members, Khumalo attended the Rights and Remedies course by GroundWork Environmental Justice School and the Centre for Environmental Rights, enabling the organisation to host community workshops that educate people on their rights and empower them to make informed decisions.
People need to understand that it is their constitutional right to live in an environment that is not harmful to their wellbeing