Living under a sulphurous coal-fire cloud in Marapong

12 March 2017 - 02:00 By SIPHE MACANDA and MATTHEW SAVIDES
Lizelle Madubanya and her son in Marapong near Lephalale, Limpopo.
Lizelle Madubanya and her son in Marapong near Lephalale, Limpopo.
Image: ALAISTER RUSSELL

As the sun rises over Marapong in Lephalale, Limpopo, a colossal cloud of pollution looms overhead.

Residents rush to work, most of them at the nearby mine that supplies coal to Eskom's Matimba and Medupi power stations.

The stations themselves cast a dirty shadow over the area.

Matimba, in particular, worries residents. The towering power station releases pollutants, including toxic sulphur dioxide (SO), which is strictly regulated by the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act.

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Both power stations' emissions were put in the spotlight by the Marapong community and environmentalists after the power utility indicated it would apply for the postponement of minimum emission standards.

But Eskom's plants are not the community's only threat.

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the Centre for Environmental Rights this week won a crucial case in the High Court in Pretoria over the planned Thabametsi power station.

They argued that the Department of Environmental Affairs had not considered the impact of climate change and greenhouse emissions when it granted clearance for the station, to be built by Exxaro in partnership with Japanese and Korean companies.

While the environmental clearance was not revoked, Judge John Murphy on Wednesday ordered Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa to hear Earthlife Africa's appeal against the granting of the licence, which she had previously dismissed.

Residents of Lephalale were outside court to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed plant.

A Sunday Times team visited the Marapong area last week. There, just metres from Matimba's boundary fence, residents told how they regularly fell ill.

Rabelani Mulovhedzi, who hails from Thohoyandou, said he struggled to breathe because of sinus issues. He never had this problem until he moved to the area to work two years ago. He has told his family he is considering leaving due to his health woes.

"I am worried about my health so I can't continue staying here any more," he said.

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Another resident, Lizelle Madubanya, said she feared for the health of her baby son.

She lives with him and her boyfriend, Freddy Makgoba, in a shack near the station's fence.

"Every day I think about his health because of this smoke. But I do not have a choice but to be here because of work reasons. It is really painful that we risk his life and our health, but we cannot do anything about that unless the government intervenes to reduce the toxic smoke here."

She said the mine and the two power stations should have been an economic boost to the people of Marapong, but had became a burden.

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