Clean Air is a Constitutional Right, South African Court Rules

The Pretoria High Court has, in a landmark judgment, ruled that air pollution is a violation of Constitutional rights. Environmental justice groups have welcomed the decision, hailing it as a victory for environmental justice in South Africa with far-reaching consequences.

In her judgment, Judge Collis found for the applicants - environmental NGOs groundWork and Vukani - and ordered government to pass regulations to implement and enforce the Highveld Priority Area Air Quality Management Plan, which is aimed at cleaning up the air on the Highveld to meet health-based air quality standards.

"I am so happy that we have succeeded with this court case," says Promise Mabilo, Vukani Coordinator. "This is not only a victory for the applicants and affected communities living in the Highveld Priority Area, but it is also a victory for the affected communities fighting for their right to clean air in South Africa's other priority areas - the Vaal and the Waterberg."

The nation's history of pollution reached a watershed moment in 2019 when the area around Kriel in Mpumalanga was recorded as the world's second-biggest producer of sulphur dioxide emissions in a study commissioned by Greenpeace India. According to data from NASA satellites, the area's high levels of pollution were a direct result of a concentration of coal power plants there.


Mpumalanga is home to a cluster of twelve coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of over 32 gigawatts owned and operated by Eskom. Satellite data revealed that the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria are also highly affected by extreme NO2 pollution levels which blow across from Mpumalanga and into both cities due to close proximity and regular east winds (file photo).

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