Publication year: 2005

The economy of South Africa is best characterized as an emerging market with a plentiful supply of natural resources; a well-developed financial, legal, communications, and transport network; a top-ranked stock exchange; and a modern infrastructure that is capable of efficiently distributing goods to regional urban centers.  Nevertheless, South Africa has been plagued with high unemployment, overwhelming economic problems, and severe instances of environmental injustice, all of which are the result of apartheid politics.  A notable lack of political-economic influence among low-income post-apartheid South African’s has made it possible for Engen, South Africa’s largest petrochemical manufacturer, to emit high levels of air-bourn toxic chemicals without serious legal consequence.  As a result, the citizens of South Durban suffer from high incidence and prevalence rates of cancer, asthma, and severe chest pain, particularly in school-aged children.[1]  This paper will evaluate a case study produced by the University of Michigan that analyzes the toxins produced by Engen in South Durban during the post-apartheid era.  Doing so will demonstrate that the struggle of low-income groups against disproportionate exposure to hazardous environmental conditions often stem from ill conceived, poorly constructed, or a complete lack of bureaucratic administrative policymaking.  This essay will argue that in order to improve its environmental problems, the South African government must create a government-funded bureaucratic agency that possesses law making and enforcement powers equivalent to those owned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Environmental justice, broadly defined, refers to the processes through which a government and its legal system handles socioeconomic and political inequalities within low-income and minority communities that typically arise from corporate and industrial activity.[2]  Regardless of race, color, or income, all citizens, both domestic and abroad, possess the natural right to reasonable and meaningful involvement in matters concerning the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.  A recurring theme that binds the political, socioeconomic, and epidemiological issues of environmental justice is sustainable development: the balancing of environmental, political, economic, and social conditions that, “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[3]  As a result, this paper will call attention to conditions in South Durban that are inconsistent with sustainability.

In 2004, the University of Michigan published a case study titled: South African Environmental Justice Struggles Against “Toxic” Petrochemical Industries in South Durban:  The Engen Refiner Case.[4]  The case explores the South Durban community’s struggle against disproportionate exposure to toxic air-bourn chemicals such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and benzene.  It implies that apartheid politics in South Africa between 1950 and 1994 created a political environment that post-apartheid petrochemical industries exploited, which in turn created a severe health hazard in South Durban.[5]  It examines the role of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), and other non-governmental activist organizations, and the environmental and legal responsibilities of Engen.  The case study’s conclusion, that Engen officials colluded with apartheid politicians for economic gain at the expense of low-income black and Indian communities, is consistent with the above-mentioned definition of environmental justice.[6]  This paper does not refute that Engen exploited post-apartheid zoning strategies, or that it gained financially from the limited political-economic influence of low-income individuals.  However, the Michigan case study also asserts that Engen is responsible for the high rates of cancer and leukemia in South Durban, and that the central problem with South African environmental legislature is the lack of clearly defined legislation to control air pollution.[7]  However, the Michigan case study (1) presents incomplete or inaccurate epidemiological data; (2) provides an incomplete history of apartheid in South Durban; and (3) fails to analyze the economic and political conditions that contributed to the development of South Africa’s current environmental policies.  As a result, the conclusions of this paper differ from those found in the Michigan case study for the following reasons.  First, SO2 is a Group 3 chemical, or a non-carcinogen; thus, the causes of high incidence rates of cancer in South Durban are dubious because there is insufficient empirical medical evidence to support the claim that Engen’s business practices are the cause.  Second, even clearly defined legislation is practically worthless without enforcement; hence, this paper asserts that the core problem with South African environmental legislation is its lack of a governmental agency equivalent to the EPA, not the lack of clearly defined legislation to control air pollution.  Currently, non-governmental organizations and citizen activist groups define South Africa’s environmental issues; however, neither has political or economic power sufficient to impose and enforce laws against violators such as Engen.  Third, the history of apartheid in South Durban indicates that Engen’s toxic fumes affected both white and non-white communities equally; therefore, the notion that racial discrimination was the primary motivation for this particular instance of environmental justice is unsubstantiated.

In order to analyze the consequences of environmentally based administrative policy making in South Durban it is necessary to understand the history of apartheid politics in South Africa.  The defeat by the British in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) gave Afrikaners (ethnic white South African settlers) significant post-war concessions, the most notable being the relinquishment of internal political control.[8]  By 1948, Afrikaners passed numerous laws that resulted in apartheid: a rigid system of racial segregation that excluded black citizens from jobs, voting, and education through a brutal police system designed to uphold segregation policies.[9]  Although Afrikaners touted segregation as the ultimate solution to the racial problem, it was in fact designed to ensure a political and economic monopoly over all non-white races in South Africa.[10]  In 1950, The Groups Area Act, an important corner stone of the apartheid system, provided both the financial and legal resources needed to segregate the South Durban (and other) communities from white neighborhoods.[11]  Afrikaners denied all forms of black protest, declared the African National Congress (ANC) illegal, and it imprisoned African leaders such as Nelson Mandela.[12]  The government justified its repression by labeling all black protests as communist-inspired, and by playing on the racial fears of the white minority.  By the late 1980’s, tensions grew in South Africa, and the international community boycotted South African exports, thus affecting its economy.  F. W. de Klerk, a moderate Afrikaner leader, successfully negotiated for equal voting and other rights, thus triggering a series of events that resulted in the release of Nelson Mandela, the right for peaceful mass demonstrations, and ultimately, the enfranchisement of all adult South Africans for the 1994 elections.[13]

The end of apartheid in South Africa marks the beginning of new struggles for low-income and minority groups.  Newly democratizing nations present lucrative investment opportunities that typically attract foreign direct investment (FDI).  As FDI flowed into the South African economy, numerous transnational industrial plants developed, many of which took advantage of South Africa’s poorly constructed environmental laws.  As a result, low-income and minority groups faced exposure to pollutants and toxins such as SO2 and benzene.  Due to their proximity to the South African industrial hub, South Durban’s citizens complained of a notable increase in cancer and asthma.[14]  During this period, FDI, combined with the goal of establishing South Africa’s position in the growing worldwide capitalist economy, created transnational companies such as Engen: a Malaysian-owned petrochemical plant located adjacent to low-income communities, and one of the two largest sources of SO2 in South Durban.

South Durban comprises three low-income communities: Merebank, an Indian community of small houses; Wentworth, a predominantly black community, and the Bluff, a white, low-income community.[15]  Occupational data indicates that all three communities comprise low-income, blue-collared laborers with little education.[16]  Merebank and Wentworth suffer from their close proximity to Engen, whereas the Bluff suffers from prevailing down winds that carries SO2 fumes, oil sprays, and soot from Engen to their homes, thus exposing them to equivalent toxic fumes.[17]  In other words, black, Indian, and white communities suffer equal exposure to Engen’s toxic fumes, yet the Michigan case study fails to include that fact in its analysis.  Instead, it argues that racial discrimination is the primary cause of inequality in South Durban.[18]  However, this paper asserts that inequality in South Durban stems from unequal power relations between low-income individuals and high-income corporate leaders, with race being a secondary, rather than a primary motivating force.  Hence, a class-based analysis of inequality in South Durban is more accurate than the racially based assessment performed by the University of Michigan.

The above-mentioned history of apartheid and its effects on South Durban has contributed to the current political environment and it effects on environmental laws.  Although Constitutional rights are the key to environmental protection in most democratic societies, without enforcement they are practically useless.  The South African Constitution explicates social, economic, and environmental rights.  Specifically, Section 24 of the South African Bill of Rights (a component of the Constitution) states that everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to his or her health or well-being.[19]  Moreover, present and future generations of South African’s have the Constitutional right to have their environment protected through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevents pollution and ecological degradation; and secures ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.[20]  In short, the South African Constitution is consistent with the previously mentioned definitions of environmental justice and sustainability, thus suggesting that South Africa should epitomize superior environmental conditions.  By contrast, the U.S. Constitution does not explicate social, economic, and environmental rights.[21]  Notwithstanding a history of environmental injustice in the U.S., it is far better equipped to (and arguably more successful at) preventing and resolving severe, prolonged instances of toxic exposure primarily because its bureaucratic system has developed federal bureaucratic agencies, such as the EPA, designed to enforce environmental laws, and punish those who violate those laws.[22]  By contrast, South Africa relies on non-governmental agencies (NGO) and special interest groups who struggle with funding and have no political or enforcement powers.  As a result, there are no governmental agencies working on the behalf of the low-income and minority groups in South Africa, thus permitting transnational companies such as Engen to violate environmental laws without serious consequence despite internationally accepted (but not legally enforceable) toxic output norms.

The advancement of Western democratization in South Africa (and similar undeveloped nations) is a strong component of U.S. foreign policy, and large international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank share its goals of establishing democracy worldwide, largely through the development of free trade.[23]  The fact that South Africa, a newly democratized nation whose Constitution entrenches social, economic, and environmental rights, is struggling to enforce its environmental laws raises the question: does the democratic process truly lead to better environmental conditions for low-income and minority groups?  This question deservers further analysis.  Democracy practiced at the local level differs from that at the national level.[24]  For instance, the IMF and World Bank often consider the political policies of national governments because they typically involve large-scale sustainable devolvement, which in turn enhances free trade.[25]  By contrast, large international organizations tend to overlook grass roots and special interest groups who focus on environmental issues that directly affect local individuals.[26]  As a result, local groups are unable to compete with large transnational organizations in matters concerning environmental justice because they simply lack the political power or international support needed to advance their cause.  Specifically, local community-based environmental groups in South Durban lacked political power sufficient to compete with Engen, who derives its power from its close relationships with the ANC.[27]  Although the post-apartheid South African government established universal suffrage and multiparty Parliamentary representation, the establishment of local democracy through Western democratization did not necessarily mean a strengthened role for low-income and minority groups because they suffer from a lack of representation for their political, social, economic, and environmental rights.  In short, Western democratization in undeveloped regions is inconsistent with sustainability.

In an attempt to compete against the impacts of Western democratization, grassroots and environmental NGO’s developed forums and consultative committees designed to enhance the power of those most affected by poverty and environmental degradation.[28]  For example, citizens in South Durban created the SO2 steering committee, whose primary goal is to discuss environmental conditions and sustainable development with local politicians and Engen representatives.[29]  Although they were unsuccessful at forcing Engen to reduce SO2 production from 84 to 2 tons per day, the committees sparked a movement that prompted South Africa’s three largest cities (including Durban) to adopt Local Agenda (LA 21), a UN run program that focuses on sustainable development.[30]  The Durban municipal government envisioned LA 21 as a, “people-centered process that provides meaningful opportunities to develop partnerships for change,” thus giving hope to South Durban residents.[31]  (ICLEI, 1995)  Despite their good intentions, however, environmental forums receive lower priority and have virtually no political influence, nor do they possess enforcement power.[32]  Hence, Engen did not reduce its SO2 production, mostly because compliance was optional.  This paper asserts that the South African government must create a government-funded bureaucratic agency that can create and enforce environmental laws, and harshly punish businesses that violate those laws.

The South African government’s inability to enforce its environmental laws is not only because it lacks a bureaucratic agency equivalent to the EPA.  The pressures of neo-liberal economic policies that stem from Western democratization places added pressure on low-income and minority groups.  Adam Smith, often regarded as a father of capitalism, described the hidden hand in his 1776 book, Wealth of Nations, where through the pursuit of self-interest, hidden forces would automatically balance the economy.[33]  South Africa’s ambitious goal of adopting neo-liberal economic policies and encouraging FDI has prompted the government to, “remove trade barriers much faster than the IMF suggested.”  (Padayachee, 1996, pg. 369)  In June 1996, the government divulged a macroeconomic strategy designed to promote growth, create jobs, and improve South Africa’s competitiveness in world markets.  The government’s strategy reduced spending on social services (in order to meet budget target); it liberalized the financial, labor, and trade markets; and it sought foreign investors.[34]  In short, the government fast-tracked development through Spatial Development Initiatives (SDI), and it removed regulatory obstacles by promising tax breaks to investors.  Accordingly, economic growth increased, but only at the expense of developing a governmental system that was simply incapable of handling the environmental disasters that it was simultaneously creating in South Durban.

It is likely that if the South African government were to create an environmental agency, it would encounter problems similar to those experienced by the EPA.  The EPA is charged with the overwhelming tasks of repairing the already-damaged environment, and establishing new criteria for a cleaner environment and improved environmental sustainability were the EPA’s primary responsibly.  The specialized scientific knowledge, education, and experience required by its employees to carry out those tasks kept the President and Congress out of most of the EPA’s decision-making process, thus establishing it as a neutrally competent federal agency that required no oversight.  As a result, battles between the White House and the EPA often occur depending on which political party is in power.[35]  Given the political discord in South Africa over environmental issues, it is likely that it will experience similar problems.

The above-mentioned political, economic, and administrative issues exemplify how globalization affects South Africa’s environmental struggle, thus exposing it to global environmental standards that most countries seek from the EPA.  Ironically, the U.S. is widely criticized for not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol (an amendment to the international treaty on climate change that requires mandatory emission limitations for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to the signatory nations) by many of the same nations who seek its guidance in environmental standards.  Although South Africa has an advanced and comprehensive regulatory financial regulation system, as evidenced by its top-ranked stock exchange (currently ranked in the top 10 worldwide), it lacks an effective enforcement mechanism vis-à-vis environmental laws.  While overregulation, and its associated costs and benefits, effect sustainability by preventing economic growth, under-regulation has the opposite affect; low-income and minority groups suffer because there are no governmental organizations supporting sustainability.  Moreover, there is currently no plan to develop a compelling regulatory agency designed to assess and account for regulation on a cost-benefit basis.[36]  This is precisely where the gap between environmental law and enforcement occurs; thus, the absence of a regulatory agency capable of conducting and assessing an accurate cost-benefit analysis of Engen’s business practices disadvantages low-income and minority groups.

Until the South African government establishes an EPA-equivalent agency, South African’s must rely on NGO’s and special interest groups in order to advance their cause.  Currently, South Africa has seven environmental NGO’s: the North West Parks & Tourism Board Honorary Officer Association, the Friends of the Pilansberg, Earthlife Africa, the Koeberg Alert, the Cape Town Ecology Group, the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa, and the Nelson Mandela Bay Local Environmentalists.  Collectively, those seven NGO’s have a combined operating budget of less than one-fifth the EPA’s annual budget, or, “1-2% of total (South African) government expenditures.”[37]  Moreover, NGO’s have virtually no political power, and they must actively seek new financing as compared to governmental organizations that rely on annual funding through Congressional appropriations.  In short, NGO’s are the weaker part of a triumvirate, (or third sector) designed to counter the other two actors, the state and the market.[38]  Although NGO’s purport that they are a natural development of a democratic and capitalistic society, which is also a characteristic of Adam Smiths hidden hand, NGO’s are in fact weaker because of their financial independence, and lack of political power.[39]  Indeed, NGO’s are a natural occurrence of apartheid politics; however, this does not necessarily mean that they are capable of sufficiently enforcing environmental laws in South Durban.  For example, the best that NGO’s have accomplished is denying Engen a public-relations victory by refusing to sign environmental agreements, and keeping Engen’s pollution history in the view of national policymakers.[40]  Although Engen originally agreed to several of the NGO’s demands, it did not agree to its key demand to reduce SO2 emissions because its emission levels did not violate South African law.  Engen also violated other agreements, such as the Good Neighbor Agreement, which South Durban citizens argue was a legally binding agreement between them and Engen.[41]  However, they were unable to enforce the agreements, and instead attempted to utilize international standards, particularly from the U.S., to argue that Engen’s emissions were too high.[42]  In its defense, Engen contested those international standards, and supported its argument with a different set of environmental standards from Malaysia, who invested $436 million in FDI in the early 1990’s, and has substantially lower emission output standards.[43]  Although South Durban citizens contested Engen’s defense with scientific and technical data, analyzing such data is usually difficult for local organizations because of the highly technical nature of the issues.  Hence, the need for a governmental agency whose employees are technically capable of analyzing complex environmental issues is vital.

The Michigan case study implies Engen’s production of 82 tons of SO2 daily greatly exceeds the 2 tons daily permitted by the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI): the public EPA database that contains information on permissible levels of toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities.[44]  The TRI inventory was established with U.S. government funding under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), and it was further expanded by the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990.  According to the EPA, the TRI is one of several similar programs established, (or being established), by countries around the world.[45]  In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), commonly known as the Earth Summit, established a twenty first century environmental action plan titled Agenda 21, which includes a chapter on policies designed to improve the sound management of chemicals.[46]  In 1993, the U.S., along with other nations, international organizations, industry groups, and environmental organizations, developed an emissions inventory strategy known as the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR), whose goal is to collect comprehensive data vis-à-vis the release and transfer of pollutants from industrial facilities.  In short, the PRTR is the international counterpart of the TRI.  To date, South Africa’s industrial output is inconsistent with PRTR standards.  According to the EPA, the TRI is one of several programs that some developing nations have embraced.[47]  To date, however, the South African government has not fully adopted the TRI, largely because it has not established an agency equivalent to the EPA that can understand the complexities of chemical analysis, create laws that are in the public’s best interest, and enforce those laws sufficiently to require violators such as Engen to comply.  As a result, South Africa’s industrial output is inconsistent with TRI standards.

The citizens of South Durban (population 280,000) claim that they suffer from disproportionately higher incidence and prevalence rates of cancer, asthma, and severe chest pain as compared to other South African towns.[48]  Numerous studies address this topic.  In 1994, Merebank, reported that school students exhibited three times the normal rate of chronic coughs, chest congestion, and persistent wheezing as compared to students located in other towns.[49]  In 1996, a study conducted by Diab and Preston-Whyte concluded that South Durban has one of the highest ambient levels of SO2 in the country.[50]  In 2002, a medical study conducted by the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine found that 52% of students and teachers at a primary school bordering the Engen plant suffered from asthma.[51]  This paper does not refute that the toxic fumes produced by Engen are the cause of asthma in South Durban; there is sufficient medical evidence to indicate that SO2 causes asthma.[52]  However, as compared to other African nations in the southern region, the entire country of South Africa, not just South Durban, exhibits substantially higher incidence and prevalence rates of cancer.[53]  According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), South Africa had over 58,736 new cases of cancer in 2005 (0.001% of total population) as compared to Mozambique (958), Swaziland (787), Botswana (1409), Lesotho (2012), Zimbabwe (14929), and Namibia (16,600).[54]  Nevertheless, the Michigan case study implies that SO2 is one of the causes of cancer and asthma in South Durban.[55]  Although the EPA, the CDC, the WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concurs that SO2 causes asthma, they also agree that SO2 is not a carcinogen.  SO2 is a Group 3 chemical (not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans).[56]  Hence, there is no conclusive medical proof that Engen is the cause of cancer in South Durban.  According to the EPA, “[t]he sulfur dioxide generated during the primary zinc refining process [in industrial plants] is further reacted with oxygen and water to produce sulfuric acid.”[57]  (Toxic Release Inventory, 1996)  In other words, sulfuric acid is a Group 3 carcinogen; however, SO2 is not.

In other analyses, a population-based case-control study from Canada suggested an increased risk for stomach cancer in men exposed to SO2, but no excess was indicated for lung cancer.[58]  SO2 was also tested for carcinogenicity in one study in mice by inhalation exposure; a significant increase in the incidence of lung tumors was observed in females.[59]  SO2 was also tested for enhancement of carcinogenicity when administered with benzo[a]pyrene in two studies in rats and in one study in hamsters.[60]  According to the IARC, at high concentrations, sulfur dioxide irritates the upper airways and can induce acute and chronic bronchitis; while at lower levels (less than 0.25 ppm), and no effect of sulfur dioxide is seen on the airways of sensitive individuals in the general population.[61]  The conclusions of these studies indicate that there is inadequate evidence for carcinogenicity in humans of SO2, sulfites, bisulfites and metabisulfites, and limited evidence for carcinogenicity in experimental animals of SO2.[62]  In addition, WHO indicates many pathways for carcinogens to enter the human body, including air, soil, skin, meat, milk, water, and fish.[63]  Thus, it is highly possible that the citizens of South Durban are contracting cancer from more than one source.  Indeed, further research is required in order to isolate the source(s).  Nevertheless, the Michigan case study asserts that Engen’s fumes caused the cancer rate in South Durban through the inhalation of SO2.

In order to gain a better understanding of the conditions in South Africa immediately before apartheid ended, this paper utilized a blended methodological approach by analyzing a large data set from a survey conducted by the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1994 (nine months before  apartheid ended) with STATA statistical software.  The survey, which represents a joint venture by the University of Michigan, and the Stimulating Research in Population Studies and Demography in Southern Africa (SALDRU), observes the health and occupational conditions of 43,987 individuals living in 8,854 households in South Africa.[64]  The fifty-four page household survey identifies self-reported cancer and asthma rates in South Africa.  The results indicate that in 1994, 37.85, or 0.0008% of individuals on the survey reported having cancer.  As compared to the number of individuals living with cancer in South Africa in 2005, (0.001% of the population), the data indicates an increase of .0002% (or an additional 8,000 cases annually) in ten years.[65]  Nevertheless, this data is not specific to South Durban; hence, a similar survey targeting only the citizens in South Durban is necessary in order to analyze the Michigan studies claim that its citizens are exhibiting a higher cancer rate than the rest of South Africans.  Recently, in 2005, the University of Michigan and the University of KwaZulul-Natal conducted a new study that compared the health status of children and adults in South Durban to those from the northern area suburbs who do not live near major industrial areas.  Although the results of the study are not yet public, it focuses on asthma and other respiratory problems; therefore, it is unlikely to produce further information on longer-term health problems such as cancer.

Other possible reasons for the increase in cancer in South Africa include the existing HIV/AIDS epidemic, (the CDC currently ranks South Africa 1st for number of new annual cases).  According to the Mayo Clinic, HIV infected people are more vulnerable to certain types of cancer.[66]  In addition, South Africa relies on the widespread use of DDT and eleven other organic pollutants as a means of controlling vectors and preventing malaria.[67]  Current trends in global warming suggest that vectors (insects that carry diseases such as malaria) will likely increase to unprecedented levels over the next thirty years; hence, vector control is vital to South Africa’s health.  According to the EPA, DDT is a Group 2 chemical (probable human carcinogen), and WHO confirms a suspected association between the use of DDT in routine malaria control activities and an increased incidence of cancer(s).[68]  Notwithstanding these (and other) serious health and environmental problems in South Africa, the Michigan case study insists that Engen is the cause of cancer in South Durban.

In order to remain consistent with the concepts of sustainability, the process of creating effective environmental laws cannot be a purely government initiative; the public must be involved at every level.  Doing so will ensure that any laws created will benefit the public.  Hence, a regulatory impact assessment (RIA) (an evaluation of the potential impacts of a new regulation in order to establish whether it will have the desired impact) is the first step towards creating an equitable political and socioeconomic environment.  According to Rechtschaffen and Gauna (2003), the normally accepted methods of assessing environmental risk by environmental agencies are hazard identification, risk characterization, dose-response, and exposure assessment.[69]  Each type offers both allowance and limitations, such as limited data on actual human exposure, which can result in estimation rather than factual data; and the question over the use of quantitative data, which can skew the results of a study.[70]  The results of a failed risk assessment in low-income communities can, “impact these subpopulations more adversely than other population groups, (Kuehn, 1996) therefore, accurate risk assessment is vital to creating affective administrative polices that are designed to ease the burden of environmental justice.  Risk based decision-making lies at the center in the U.S. bureaucratic policymaking.  In the 1960’s the U.S. government was overwhelmed with complaints of environmental issues that its executive, legislative, or judicial branches were simply unable to handle.  Hence, in 1970, President Nixon established the EPA, charging it with the protection of human health, and the safety of the natural environment.[71]  Assessing risk cannot be accomplished without the publics involvement because low-income and minority groups deserve equitable representation in all laws that affect their health.  Therefore, in order for the South African government to resolve its environmental problems in a manner that is consistent with sustainability, it must create an agency that can enforce laws that are created by all citizens, not just those who stand to benefit economically or politically.

Until the South African government establishes an environmental agency, this paper maintains that advocacy work remains an effective method for low-income South African’s who desire policy change.  However, can low-level mobilization effectively constrain transnational-level industrial production?  This question lies at the heart of grass roots abilities to effect real governmental change sufficient to improve urban industrial air pollution.  During apartheid, demonstrations were both illegal and dangerous; hence, South Africans have a much shorter history and associated experience with non-violent activism as compared to the U.S.  Gould, Schnaiberg, and Weinberg (1996) argue that the socioeconomic causes of environmental problems are organized differently than are the social responses to those problems, largely because waste, corporate culture and economic conditions are international and transnational, whereas environmental justice is typically a local issue.[72]  In essence, the small gains that locally based environmental groups achieve are insufficient at producing long-term positive results.  Root and Wiley (1999) argue that grass roots and special interest groups can increase their power by, “building local, national, and transnational alliances (Root et al., 1999) yet they fail to identify which alliances might produce the best results.  However, the following analyses of such alliance indicate that alternative methods are needed.

In many ways, the political and socioeconomic environment in South Africa since 1994 is similar to the U.S. Civil Rights movement during the 1950’ and 1960’s.[73]  For example, in 1995 several civic groups joined forces to form the Wentworth Development Forum (WDF), whose goal was to bring people together to discuss and resolve problems pertaining to racial discrimination and socioeconomic inequality.[74]  Since its formation, WDF has attempted to negotiate with Engen; it has participated vigorously in many other environmental forums; and along with other organizations, it has built coalition structures that have become progressively stronger.  In April 1993, civic and environmental organizations from the Bluff and Merebank formed the South Durban Environmental Forum (SDEF) to address the air pollution of South Durban.  Through participating in environmental forums community organizations gained experience working together.  In 1996, many of these organizations formed the SDECA, thereby strengthening their community outreach.  Notwithstanding the efforts of special interests groups, however, this paper maintains that without meaningful enforcement mechanisms, they are less likely to achieve their goals.

Despite the absence of a bureaucratic agency that can enforce environmental laws, South Africa has the necessary components needed to bring forth real environmental change.  For example, the South African stock exchange (JSE) ranks in the top ten worldwide, hence, is can accommodate socially conscious investing.  Majora Carter, founder and executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, a community organization dedicated to the implementation of sustainable development for the South Bronx, recommends individual shareholder activism as a means of fighting injustice by purchasing 50 shares of stock in a company that is violating EPA standards.  Doing so permits individual investors to attend annual shareholder meetings, where they can voice their opinions of a company’s business practices.  While Carter’s methods are viable in the U.S., with a per capita income of $43,000, and a 2.5% annual inflation rate, it is not a practical solution for individuals living in developing nations, whose annual income is far less.  For example, in South Africa, the per capita GDP is only $13,000, or roughly 1/3 that of the U.S, and the annual inflation rate is 5%.[75]  Put in real dollars, the current market value of 50 shares of a petrochemical plant such as Exxon Mobile, for example, is approximately $4000 USD; less than 1/10th of the average American’s income, but over 30% of the average South Africans income.  Simply put, individual shareowner activism is not a practical solution for individuals living in undeveloped nations with lower per capita income and higher inflation rates.

A viable and potentially more effective version of shareholder activism is through socially conscious mutual funds.  According to Green Century Mutual Funds (a Boston-based investment company that invests in environmentally progressive companies), socially conscious investing enables investors to request changes in a corporation’s policies, which is a critical component of any environmental investing program that seeks to truly protect the long-term health of the planet.[76]  The mechanism of mutual funds enables groups of investors to combine their assets and form one, large ownership in dozens of stocks vs. numerous, small ownerships in only a few companies.  Doing so has considerably more influence on a corporations business practices, largely because one powerful voice (a professional money manager who works for the mutual fund company), expresses the concerns of all shareholders.  By far, this is a much better method of pooling money for unsophisticated investors with limited resources, particularly in South Africa, where there is no bureaucratic agency to speak on their behalf.  Although Engen’s parent company Petronas is not a publicly traded company on the JSE (instead, it is traded on the Kuala Lumpur composite index in Malaysia), many of the businesses that are vital to its daily operations are listed on the JSE; therefore, shareowner activism is possible by targeting Engen’s business partners.  In a world where global warming negatively affects environmental justice, low-income individuals require creative new methods of advocacy in order to assert their plea for better environmental business practices.  Socially conscious investing offers one possible alternative because it puts people where they are the most effective: in front of the decision-makers (board of directors) of the companies who violate environmental laws.  Moreover, unlike divestiture, which affects governmental replacement, socially conscious investing inspires governmental change.  Now that democracy is in place in South Africa, its citizens seek to change the existing government rather than supplant it.  Hence, socially conscious mutual fund investing can affect governmental change by virtue of its pooled resources.

This paper has argued that the key to environmental justice in South Africa is good governance through the development of a bureaucratic agency similar to the EPA.  Increased integration into the global economy and democratization has affected South Africa’s political economy by reshaping how local communities must respond to environmental problems in order to gain recognition.  The end of apartheid and the push towards Western democratization has in effect created a new period of turbulence in South Africa, one that permits all citizens to voice publicly their opinions, but also one that permits transnational corporations such as Engen to violate their civil rights.  Hence, the battle between neo-liberal economics and civil rights creates a new landscape of injustice in South Africa that must be fought by community-based civic and environmental organizations in South Durban.  Nevertheless, in order for democracy to work at the local level, grass roots and special interest groups must command a sufficient amount of influence to affect national policy and political leaders.  Doing so requires sophisticated strategies, such as shareholder activism, that opposes all corporate behavior that violates international human right laws, and results in transferring the environmental costs of industrial production to those most effected by it.  However, without an effective governmental agency that is empowered to create and enforce environmental laws, companies such as Engen are likely to continue to operate in the gray area.  This paper has demonstrated that the absence of a bureaucratic environmental agency that is capable of creating and enforcing laws similar to the EPA is the primary reason why transnational companies such as Engen can spew excessive amounts of air-bourn toxins without legal consequence.  Nevertheless, even though the University of Michigan’s case study accurately identifies a severe case of environmental justice in South Durban, its inaccurate use of incomplete epidemiological data produced the incorrect concision that race, rather than class, is the primary cause of inequality in post-apartheid Africa.  In order for policymakers to create effective policies that address inequality, an accurate assessment of severe cases of environmental justice is vital; doing otherwise will led to policies that are inconsistent with the concepts of sustainability.

References

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Endnotes

[1] http://www.who.int/en/

[2] see Bowen, W. M. (2001). Environmental Justice through Research-Based Decision-Making. New York: Garland.

[3] United Nations. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. General Assembly

Resolution 42/187, 11 December 1987.

[4] Maguranyanga, B.. South African Environmental Justice Struggles Against “Toxic” Petrochemical Industries in South Durban: The Engen Refinery Case. University of Michigan.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8]  see Eades, L. M. (1999). The End of Apartheid in South Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

[9]  Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Maguranyanga, B.. South African Environmental Justice Struggles Against “Toxic” Petrochemical Industries in South Durban: The Engen Refinery Case. University of Michigan.

[15] Root, C., & Wiley, D.. Globalization, Democratization, and the Environment in the New South Africa: Social Movements, Corporations, and the State of South Durban. In W. L. Goldfrank, D. Goodman, & A. Szasz (Eds.), Ecology and the World-System (pp. 213-265). Greenwood Press.

[16] www.labour.gov.za/

[17] Maguranyanga, B.. South African Environmental Justice Struggles Against “Toxic” Petrochemical Industries in South Durban: The Engen Refinery Case. University of Michigan.

[18] Ibid.

[19] South African Constitution, Section 24, Environment, Bill of Rights

[20] Ibid.

[21] U.S. Constitution (1787)

[22] Wailoo, K. (2001). Dying In the City Of The Blues: Sickle Cell Anemia and the Politics of Race and Health. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

[23] Mead, W.R. (2000). Special Providence. Routledge. London.

[24] Root, C., & Wiley, D.. Globalization, Democratization, and the Environment in the New South Africa: Social Movements, Corporations, and the State of South Durban. In W. L. Goldfrank, D. Goodman, & A. Szasz (Eds.), Ecology and the World-System (pp. 213-265). Greenwood Press.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] http://www.iclei.org/

[32] Root, C., & Wiley, D.. Globalization, Democratization, and the Environment in the New South Africa: Social Movements, Corporations, and the State of South Durban. In W. L. Goldfrank, D. Goodman, & A. Szasz (Eds.), Ecology and the World-System (pp. 213-265). Greenwood Press.

[33] Smith, Adam (1776) An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

[34] Root, C., & Wiley, D.. Globalization, Democratization, and the Environment in the New South Africa: Social Movements, Corporations, and the State of South Durban. In W. L. Goldfrank, D. Goodman, & A. Szasz (Eds.), Ecology and the World-System (pp. 213-265). Greenwood Press.

[35] Breyer, S. (1982). Regulation and Its Reform. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvard University Press.

[36] Root, C., & Wiley, D.. Globalization, Democratization, and the Environment in the New South Africa: Social Movements, Corporations, and the State of South Durban. In W. L. Goldfrank, D. Goodman, & A. Szasz (Eds.), Ecology and the World-System (pp. 213-265). Greenwood Press.

[37] www.ngo.grida.no/soesa/nsoer/issues/politic/index.htm

[38] Princen, T., & Finger, M. (1994). Environmental NGOs in World Politics: Linking the Local and the Global.

London: Routledge

[39] Goldfrank, W. L., Goodman, D., & Szasz, A. (Eds.). (1999). Ecology and the World-System. Westport, CT:

Greenwood Press.

[40] Root, C., & Wiley, D.. Globalization, Democratization, and the Environment in the New South Africa: Social Movements, Corporations, and the State of South Durban. In W. L. Goldfrank, D. Goodman, & A. Szasz (Eds.), Ecology and the World-System (pp. 213-265). Greenwood Press.

[41] http://saepej.igc.org/brigadebackground.html

[42] Maguranyanga, B.. South African Environmental Justice Struggles Against “Toxic” Petrochemical Industries in South Durban: The Engen Refinery Case. University of Michigan.

[43] Root, C., & Wiley, D.. Globalization, Democratization, and the Environment in the New South Africa: Social Movements, Corporations, and the State of South Durban. In W. L. Goldfrank, D. Goodman, & A. Szasz (Eds.), Ecology and the World-System (pp. 213-265). Greenwood Press.

[44] http://www.epa.gov/tri/index.htm

[45] http://www.epa.gov/tri/index.htm

[46] http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/index.htm

[47] Ibid.

[48] Maguranyanga, B.. South African Environmental Justice Struggles Against “Toxic” Petrochemical Industries in South Durban: The Engen Refinery Case. University of Michigan.

[49] Kistnasamy, M. B. 1994. The Relationship between Location of Residency and Respiratory Symptoms of Primary

School Pupils. Unpublished manuscript. 1994)

[50] Diab, Roseanne, and Rob Preston-Whyte. 1996. Air. In Report on the State of the Environment and Development

of the Durban Metropolitan Area, Volume 2, compiled by Doug Hindson. Submitted to Executive Director

(Physical Environment Service unity), North Central Council, Durban Metropolitan Area.

[51] http://www.themercury.co.za/index.php?fSectionId=283&fArticleId=2574130

[52] http://www.who.int/heca/infomaterials/HECANETJune2005.pdf

[53] http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/Listagentsalphorder.pdf

[54] Ibid.

[55] Maguranyanga, B.. South African Environmental Justice Struggles Against “Toxic” Petrochemical Industries in South Durban: The Engen Refinery Case. University of Michigan.

[56] http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/Listagentsalphorder.pdf

[57] http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/data_quality_reports/1996/sectx-4.pdf,  pg. 49

[58] http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/Listagentsalphorder.pdf

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] http://www.who.int/quantifying_ehimpacts/methods/en/fehr.pdf

[64] http://saproject.psc.isr.umich.edu/index.html

[65] Ibid.

[66] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hiv-aids/DS00005/DSECTION=7

[67] Ibid.

[68] http://www.who.int/malaria/docs/ecr20_annex1.htm

[69] Rechtschaffen, C., & Gauna, E. (2003). Environmental Justice: Law, Policy & Regulation. Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.

[70] Kuehn, R. R. (1996). Risk Assessment. In The Environmental Justice Implications of Quantitative Risk Assessment (pp. 89-91). Chicago, Il: University of Illinois Law Review 103.

[71] http://www.epa.gov/tri/index.htm

[72] Gould, K., Schnaiberg, A., and Weinberg, A. (1996). Local Environmental Struggles: Citizen Activism in

 the Treadmill of Production. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[73] see Holt, T. C. (2000). The Problems of Race in the 21st Century. Cambridge, MA 02138: Harvard Univesrity Press.

[74] http://www.gcmonitor.org/article.php?id=230

 

[75] http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/

[76] http://www.greencentury.com/shareholder/