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Conservation groups sue South African government over air pollution

Groups say the government has violated the constitutional right to a healthy environment.

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Conservation groups sue South African government over air pollution
(File photo)

Two South African environmental groups are suing the government over air pollution in the northeastern province of Mpumalanga, where 83 per cent of the country’s coal is mined, their lawyer said Monday. 

GroundWork and the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action say the government has violated the constitutional right to a healthy environment.

According to an October report by Greenpeace, Mpumalanga’s nitrogen dioxide emissions are the highest in the world.

The province, which borders Mozambique, is also home to 12 coal-fired power plants run by South Africa’s electricity provider Eskom.

Papers were served on Friday to the South African president, the national air quality controller, and the environmental minister, and they have 15 days to respond to the application, the NGOs’ lawyer Robyn Hugo said.

Activists say being exposed to toxic products from coal plants such as sulphur dioxide and heavy metals like mercury have led led to chronic diseases like asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer and contributes to cerebral accidents and premature births.

According to an independent survey cited by the two NGOs, the 12 Eskom sites plus two others are responsible for the bulk of air pollution which caused between 305 and 650 premature deaths in the province in 2016.

“We want an order that the minister must make regulation to implement and enforce (an) air quality management plan,” Hugo said.

“(The) government’s attitude is these things take time, we will get there eventually and we are saying that is not acceptable.”

Last month, South Africa, the continent’s leading industrial powerhouse and its top polluter, introduced a carbon tax for businesses that will be levied from June 1 on greenhouse gases from fuel combustion and industrial processes and emissions.

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South Africa’s openly HIV-positive judge retires

Edwin Cameron, 66, won widespread praise for spearheading the fight for people with HIV two decades ago

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South Africa's openly HIV-positive judge retires
Edwin Cameron. (AFP)

A South African Constitutional Court judge and gay rights activist who openly disclosed his HIV status retired on Tuesday.

Edwin Cameron, 66, who hung up his gown after 25 years of serving as a judge, won widespread praise for spearheading the fight for people with HIV two decades ago when the infection rapidly spread under what he called the “AIDS denialism” of the then South African President, Thabo Mbeki.

He revealed his status in 1999 more than a decade after he contracted the virus.

He stirred up the 2000 International AIDS Conference in Durban with a speech detailing his own infection and how he was fortunate to be able to afford to buy antiretrovirals when treatment was so expensive and only accessible to the well-heeled.

“I have survived a pandemic many have perished living under,” he said at a special Constitutional Court sitting held in his honour in Johannesburg.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world — 19 per cent according to the UN AIDS agency — with more than seven million people living with the virus.

The country now has the largest state-sponsored anti-retroviral programme in the world, serving 2.5 million people.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng paid tribute to Cameron as “a brave and bold man” and for his catalytic role in mobilising authorities to roll out a mass ARV programme.

“When HIV and AIDS attracted stigma, he stood up and declared openly: ‘I am HIV positive’.”

“He could have chosen to mind his own business and care less about (others but) for the sake of the suffering masses, he not only spoke, but he acted.”

Openly gay, Cameron “helped secure the express inclusion of sexual orientation in the South African Constitution,” according to his official profile.

In 2006, South Africa became the sole African nation to allow gay marriage and it has become a haven for African homosexuals who flee persecution at home.

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Police, soldiers deployed to prevent banned march in Zimbabwe’s Bulawayo city

Soldiers and armed police on horseback and in trucks were seen patrolling the central business district

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Police, soldiers deployed to prevent banned march in Zimbabwe's Bulawayo city
Zimbabwean anti-riot police patrol the streets of Harare. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

Troops and police were out in force in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo on Monday to prevent a planned opposition march, days after brutally dispersing a similar banned protest in Harare.

Soldiers and armed police on horseback and in trucks were seen patrolling the central business district and most of the high-density suburbs. 

Using a loudhailer, police warned people against joining the demonstration, called to protest deteriorating economic conditions.

One of the city’s usually busy areas, the precincts of Tredgold Magistrate Courts, where illegal forex changers ply their trade, was cordoned off by police.

Police have also set up checkpoints on most roads leading to the city centre.

Zimbabwean police banned the protests organised by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) after they violently dispersed protesters who had defied a similar order in Harare on Friday. 

The MDC is challenging the ban in court.

READ: Zimbabwean police fire tear gas to dispel opposition protesters

The protesters are angry over the country’s floundering economy and the jailing of a well-known government critic, tribal chief Felix Ndiweni. 

The chief who is highly revered in the western Matabeleland region of the country, was last week jailed for 18 months for allegedly destroying a villager’s property.

Police fired teargas and beat up several demonstrators in Harare on Friday after they gathered in a square where the protest had originally been scheduled to start.

Friday’s protests were the first since President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to hike fuel prices by more than 100 per cent sparked nationwide demonstrations in January which left at least 17 people dead and several injured when soldiers opened fire.

Mnangagwa took over from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, and then won disputed elections in July last year vowing to revive the economy.

But Zimbabweans say things have gone from bad to worse with shortages of bread, fuel, medicines and other goods and the skyrocketing cost of living. 

According to the UN, about five million Zimbabweans, or a third of the population, are in need of food aid.

“We are deeply concerned by the socio-economic crisis that continues to unfold in Zimbabwe, the UN Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva on Friday. 

“We urge the Government to find ways to engage with protesters, and to refrain from the use of violence”, it further stated.

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Teenager with albinism found dismembered in Burundi

The teenager was found dead late Saturday in the northwest of the country along the Rusizi river

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Burundi teenager with Albinism found dismembered

15-year-old teen with albinism found dismembered one week after going missing

Case is first of such killing in Burundi for 3 years

Over 20 Burundians with albinism have been killed since 2008

A 15-year-old albino boy has been found dismembered in Burundi a week after going missing, the first such killing in the country in three years, a local albino group said Sunday. Albinos, who have white skin and yellow hair as a result of a genetic disorder that causes the absence of pigmentation, are killed regularly in some African countries for their body parts, which are used in witchcraft rituals. 

The teenager was found dead late Saturday in the northwest of the country along the Rusizi river separating Burundi from DR Congo, not far from his home village.

“The young albino was killed atrociously… His murderers cut his right leg off at the knee, his right arm and his tongue,” said Kassim Kazungu, the head of the local association Albinos Without Borders.

More than 20 albinos have been killed in Burundi since 2008, with the last case in 2016 when a five-year-old girl was found dismembered after being taken from her home. Kazungu said a four-year-old albino boy had been missing since October 2018 from the village of Cendajuri near the Tanzanian border, but that he had “no hope” of finding him alive.

Some experts believe the demand for albino body parts in Tanzania – where such attacks are the most prevalent – has fuelled such killings in border areas.

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