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Sasol pollutes Sasolburg, Mpumalanga, the Vaal River and other areas, South Africa

Significant air and water pollution in Vaal River, also from the region of Mpumalanga, the town of Sasolburg and elsewhere in the country, have been caused by Sasol, a top-polluting company.


These cases, showing some of the damage done by Sasol and the resistance to it, will take us through different regions of South Africa. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Sasol pollutes Sasolburg, Mpumalanga, the Vaal River and other areas, South Africa
Country:South Africa
State or province:Witswatersrand
Location of conflict:Vaal River
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Coal extraction and processing
Chemical industries
Manufacturing activities
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Oil and gas refining
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Natural Gas
Industrial waste
Carbon offsets
Chemical products
Liquid fuels made of coal
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Sasol is an important South African company, with a reputation for making liquid fuels out of coal. Sasol is active in 31 countries with world-scale facilities to produce liquid fuels and othe chemicals. As the company acknowledges, "for many countries, specifically those with abundant hydrocarbons, in-country conversion of these resources into liquid fuels and chemicals goes a long way to boost national economies".

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Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:01/01/2003
Company names or state enterprises:ESKOM from South Africa
Sasol from South Africa
Relevant government actors:South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Emfuleni Municipality, Department of Water and Sanitation, Gauteng Corporate Government and Traditional Affairs
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:SA Human Rights Commission, Save the Vaal Environment (SAVE), groundWork, Just Share, the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, the Centre for Environmental Rights, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Justiça Ambiental
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills, Soil contamination
Potential: Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other Health impacts
Potential: Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Sasol and other companies continue to have impunity for their various environmental crimes contributing to air and water pollution.
Sources & Materials
Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] All Afrika. South Africa: Vaal River Pollution - 'There Have Been Challenges to Compliance', Sasol Says (Phakgadi 2018)
[click to view]

[2] Daily Maverick. More money, more time needed to fix contamination in river system(Mthethwa 2019)
[click to view]

[3] IOL. Civil society turns up the heat on Sasol (Faku 2018)
[click to view]

[4] Green Grants. Communities rise against toxic polluters in South Africa’s Vaal Triangle (Abrams 2015)
[click to view]

[5] The Guardian. Finding solutions for South Africa’s coal-fired water and energy problems (Shiao & Maddocks 2014)
[click to view]

[6] News24. Sasol intentionally polluted the Vaal River, SAHRC inquiry hears (Phakgadi 2019)
[click to view]

[7] Al Jazeera. The heavy toll of coal mining in South Africa (Schneider 2015)
[click to view]

[8] Good Things Guy. Good progress being made in the Vaal River Clean-up project (Lindeque 2020)
[click to view]

[9] ThinkProgress. Women Are The Ones Fighting The Tough Environmental Battles Around The World (Cimons 2016)
[click to view]

[10] Green Grants. Climate Justice and Women’s Rights: A Guide to Supporting Grassroots Women’s Action (2015)
[click to view]

[11] Daily Maverick. Sasol: The City on the Hill (Davies et al. 2018)
[click to view]

[12] IOL. Sasol: SA’s carbon criminal. By Sheree Bega, Sep 25, 2019
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Sasol beyond South Africa, by groundWork.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, [email protected], JMA (ICTA-UAB)
Last update22/06/2020
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