Comment: The South African coal mine being considered for Australian funding – and the human rights it ignores-NewsCO

January 29, 2017

Australia’s export credit agency (Efic) is quietly considering investing in a new coal mine in Limpopo, South Africa. If they do invest in the mine, Efic risks imposing a human rights and environmental disaster on the people of Limpopo.

Efic, a Government-owned agency responsible for financing projects related to Australia’s export interests, is expected to make a decision on whether or not to invest in the mine any day now. The investment would back Resgen, a mining corporation that has obtained the Mining Right to extract coal in the Waterberg region, where Limpopo is located.

Limpopo is a province renowned for its lush wildlife reserves and unique Baobab trees, but it is also one of the poorest regions of South Africa. Resgen claims their coal will contribute much-needed “positive long-term” development to the region, even naming the mine, “Boikarabelo – which means to be responsible in the local language.”

But South African women’s rights activists against mining say they will be exploited, not saved.

Lorraine Kakaza, a South African activist, says that international investors like Efic are “violating our human rights”.

She has seen firsthand the history of women’s rights abuses carried out by the South African coal mining industry; a history that was recently documented in a new report published by ActionAid South Africa and partners.

The list of human rights violations recorded in the report is long and harrowing: contaminated water, land grabs, polluted air, poisoned land, black lung disease in mine workers, and social breakdown in affected communities.

As Kakaza knows well, women are hit the hardest by these abuses and the environmental destruction mines unleash upon the land. Women are largely responsible for the provision of clean food and water to their families, which means contaminated water and poisoned, unfertile land make care provision far more burdensome. This, coupled with the diseases caused by mine-produced toxins, increases women’s unpaid care work significantly.

“[Women] are affected in different ways – at the environmental level, the air that they breathe is polluted. The soil, it’s no longer fertile, they can’t plant, they can’t do anything. They lose their loved ones at an early age due to the gasses, the carbon dioxide they inhale almost daily,” Kakaza said.

This year, the Australian Government hacked away $224 million in funding for its international aid and development programs, claiming it was necessary for the budget. The Government has also failed to deliver Australia’s fair share of funds to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change.

Now, in that same year, an Australian Government agency is looking at paying for a large coal mine in South Africa that could decimate a low-income community and their land. This apparently, is the kind of project we can still afford to consider.

The aftermath of this toxic mine would also extend far beyond the borders of Limpopo. Producing up to 32 million tonne of coal per year, the mine would be a carbon bomb. Worse, Resgen CEO, Rob Lowe, has said the mine would have a “marked impact” on opening up the nearby Waterberg coalfield, one of the largest remaining coal reserves in the world.

The recent Paris climate talks brought the nations of the world together, because a global collaboration is necessary to minimise the catastrophe that is climate change. Last week, the Finkel report said Australia is not on track to meet the promises it made in Paris; a story that surprised no one after the Government backed the Adani coal mine in Queensland.

Now, Australia is considering exporting our failures and funding a huge expansion of the coal industry in South Africa. This makes a mockery of Australia’s Paris climate commitments and has forced women’s rights activists from vulnerable communities onto the frontlines of the fight to keep coal in the ground; a fight every person on this planet needs won.

This week, in solidarity with South African women fighting to stop coal mining in their communities, global justice organisation ActionAid Australia has launched a campaign with a petition demanding Efic does not invest in the mine.

The people of Limpopo already bear the scars of a history of human rights violations wrought by the coal mining industry in South Africa. If Efic funds this mine, it will reopen those scars and allow a mining corporation to bleed profit from Limpopo’s new wounds.

Archie Law is Executive Director of ActionAid Australia.

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