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Sappi Ngodwana, South Africa


For more than 50 years the Sappi Ngodwana pulp mill has polluted the Elands River valley and surrounding areas. The air pollution is evident from the foul taste and burning eyes.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Sappi Ngodwana, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Mpumalanga Province, South Africa.
Location of conflict:Ngodwana
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Manufacturing activities
Invasive species
Specific commodities:Cellulose

Project Details and Actors
Project details:

Current output capacity 500,000 tonnes Proposed increased output capacity 700,000 tonnes Mill efluent is presently sprayed onto irrigated pasture which becomes saturated and then leaches through the soil into the river.

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Level of Investment:Billions
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:1960
Company names or state enterprises:Sappi Ngodwana from South Africa
Relevant government actors:Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) , Department of Trade and Industry
International and Finance InstitutionsForest Stewardship Council (FSC)
New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:GeaSphere, Timberwatch
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Protests at company meetings
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Genetic contamination, Oil spills
Other Environmental impactsTo be completed - topsoil loss etc
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths
Other Health impactsPlantation workers exposed to
chemical pesticides. Dangerous work in plantations when clearcutting. General environmental health affected by raised levels of water, soil and air pollution.
There has been recorded incidents of cattle grazing on the irrigated pastures suffering from
loose teeth due to excess levels of fluoride.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Other socio-economic impactsThe presence of the mill and the plantations has discouraged other forms of investment into the area.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Low wages paid to contract workers. Link needs to be made between the international consumption, the mill and the immense damage caused by the plantations which feed it.
Development of alternatives:Transformation of the industry into a decentralized, diversified
sustainable model based on high value indigenous tree species from continuous cover production
forests with many small scale value adding opportunities for skilled entrepeneurs.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Resistance to the project started in the 1960s when local farmers questioned the impacts of the mill. The conflict escalated due to the death of fish in the Elands River caused by pollution from the mill. This triggered greater awareness. During 2003, Sappi announced expansion plans which resulted in protest action with toi toi dancing and the handing over of a memorandum opposing the expansion. Environmental groups criticised the EIA process which led to a revised record of decision.
Sources and Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

National Waste Management Act

National Air Quality Act

National Water Act

National Forest Act

National Environmental Management Act

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

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Video: Pulping the Future

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Other comments:0
Meta information
Contributor:Philip Owen
Last update24/06/2014
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