Resistance to Coal: The Challenges of Achieving Environmental Justice in South Africa

University essay from Lunds universitet/Humanekologi

Abstract: While the environmental justice movement has grown worldwide, it seems that the movement has yet to mobilise in South Africa. The instances of environmental injustices in South Africa are abundant but paradoxically this has not given rise to a united movement demanding environmental justice for a transition to a new and renewable energy path. This thesis explores the challenges of creating an environmental justice movement in South Africa against coal extraction. It is based on the grounds that many environmental hazards are unequally distributed onto notably the areas where black and poor people live. Built on interviews with scholars, NGOs, activists, coal mine workers and affected community members in South Africa, this research presents and compares how environmental injustice is conceptualised and experienced in relation to communities affected by coal. The thesis scrutinises which incentives there are for community members to resist against coal extraction, and which challenges they face if or when doing so. The research concludes that despite the immense amount of coal struggles, the creation of a stronger and more visible environmental justice movement in South Africa is yet to come. This can be explained through the extent of the country’s dependency and reliance on coal, in which both the economy and its citizens have been trapped in a carbon lock-in that has led to lack of action. It thereby argues that it is crucial that immediate and basic personal needs are covered, to allow citizens to start rising up against the extractionist forces in South Africa, while recognising the importance of a bottom-up mass-based approach to put an end to the environmental injustices that are occurring in the country.

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