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
NameSappi Ngodwana, South Africa
CountrySouth Africa
ProvinceMpumalanga Province, South Africa.
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
Invasive species
Manufacturing activities
Specific Commodities
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsCurrent 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.

Level of Investment (in USD)Billions
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date1960
Company Names or State EnterprisesSappi Ngodwana from South Africa
Relevant government actorsIndustrial Development Corporation (IDC) , Department of Trade and Industry
International and Financial InstitutionsForest Stewardship Council (FSC)
New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) from United States of America
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersGeaSphere, Timberwatch
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-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
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
OtherTo 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
OtherPlantation 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-economic 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
OtherThe presence of the mill and the plantations has discouraged other forms of investment into the area.
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental 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 AlternativesTransformation 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 as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.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

National Waste Management Act

National Air Quality Act

National Water Act

National Forest Act

National Environmental Management Act


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Video: Pulping the Future


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ContributorPhilip Owen
Last update24/06/2014