South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
4 June 2003 - World Environment Day
Dying to breathe
"My environment - damaging my life"

Issued by groundWork

For most South Africans World Environment Day will be little different from any other day of the year. Some of us will wake up choking on toxic fumes being emitted from nearby industries, some children will have to reach for their asthma pumps, some factory workers will be exposed to dangerously high levels of poisonous chemicals, some industrial plant somewhere in the country will "accidentally" leak an unlawful amount of some chemical into the environment. The plain truth is that for some of us South Africans the simple act of breathing can be killing us.

"Dying to breathe - the struggle for environmental justice in South Africa" is a groundbreaking new film being launched in Durban tonight. It is a documentary about how the lives of ordinary people living in Sasolburg and South Durban have been turned into a daily struggle for health because of the excessively high levels of air pollution in these two areas.

For this year's World Environment Day, the South African government has chosen as its theme: "My Environment, my Life". It is true that we human beings have life because of the unique environment on Planet Earth - the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the crops we grow.

But increasingly human activities in the pursuit of so-called "development" are having such devastating affects on our environment, that that which should be giving us life is killing us. And the so-called champions of this "development" - many of the world's largest multi-national corporations - are making profits out of destroying the environment and our health.

Cancers, respiratory diseases, birth defects, developmental disorders, behavioural problems, skin rashes, decreased sperm count, immune deficiency and even death are just a few of the consequences of exposure to industrial pollutants.

"Dying to breathe - the struggle for environmental justice in South Africa" gives faces and names to many of the victims of industrial pollution in South Africa. This professional film was produced in a partnership between groundWork, the Foundation for Human Rights (who funded the project) and Filmmakers Gillian Schutte and Sipho Singiswa from Hands on Production who developed and directed this film.

"This film demonstrates the link between the untenable environmental conditions being experienced at a local level in Sasolburg and south Durban and national and international policy decisions," said Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork. "This film exposes the need for corporate accountability and stringent pollution policies and laws," Peek further said.

New draft legislation on air quality in South Africa recently came under heavy criticism from civil society groupings, including organisations from Sasolburg and south Durban, for not going far enough to decrease air pollution being emitted from industries.

"Air pollution not only has devastating affects on the environment and human health - it is also bad for the economy," said Desmond D'Sa a veteran anti-pollution campaigner in south Durban and chairperson of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance.

"The new Air Quality Bill indirectly allows industry to continue polluting as usual due to its failure to guarantee successful implementation," D'Sa said. "The continued operations of "dirty" industry, with its unsustainable levels of pollution, limits opportunities for the development of new industries. This, in turn, limits government's ability to achieve job growth, push back the frontiers of poverty and will further impede the health of South Africa's future and existing workforce," said D'Sa. (For a full version of civil society's submission on the Air Quality Bill go to .)

Caroline Ntaopane of the Sasolburg Air Monitoring Committee, which is active in taking air samples in the heavily polluted Sasolburg area directed some of the blame to Sasol: "Whilst Sasol is filling their pockets with more and more dollars, we living next to Sasol in Sasolburg have to breath in high levels of benzene and other dangerous chemicals," she said. "As community members and victims of pollution we realise that we need to set the record straight and protect the lives of our children and future generations."

Details of the first screening of Dying to Breathe, being hosted by groundWork and SDCEA:

Date: 4th June 2003
Time: 18h30 - 20h30
Place: John Dunne Hall (off Austerville Drive, Austerville, South Durban)

For more information please contact: Linda Ambler on 0828951943 or Bobby Peek 0824641383

Linda Ambler
Media and Publications Officer
PO Box 2375, Pietermaritzburg, 3200, South Africa
Tel: (27) 33-3425662
Fax: (27) 33-3425665 or
Friends of the Earth member for South Africa