South Africa’s energy utility holds citizen’s health in balance | World Development Movement

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South Africa’s energy utility holds citizen’s health in balance

By Megan Lewis, 21 January 2014

“…the sheer market power of the energy utility… and a dominant market position in Africa… together with the realisation that energy utility makes every effort to suspend or postpone the implementation of legally binding emission standards, offers good reasons to single out [Eskom].” 

This is the Public Eye Award’s assessment team’s response to GroundWork, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and Greenpeace Africa’s nomination for the worst corporation in the international Public Eye Awards 2013. In the year ending March 2013, the company made 128.8 billion South African rands, testament to the fact that it holds a 95% monopoly of energy production in the country and about 45% on the continent. Approximately, 90% of the country’s electricity is generated through coal-fired power stations, an energy source whose entire life-cycle has serious impacts on people’s health and is known as one of the largest contributors to climate change. 

Enshrined in Section 24 of the South African Constitution (1994), people are given the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being. The three environmental justice organisations nominated the company on the basis that while many of its 18 coal-fired power stations are in areas already out of compliance with South Africa’s air quality standards, Eskom applied to the government to gain exemption and/or postpone the timeframes for 14 of these power stations from complying with stricter minimum emission standards that will be put in place from 2015 to protect people’s health and their environments. 

Eskom Holdings power station in South Africa

While Eskom reports that coal-fired power stations do not affect people’s health, it admits to likely being the biggest emitter of pollutants in the country but only due to it being the major energy producer. Its blinkered approach to coal means Eskom fails to see an alternative energy future and its latest application to maneuver around critical air legislation, it is neglecting its social and environmental responsibilities, trying to cut costs and fuel this dirty energy addiction. 

According to a study conducted by the University of Pretoria, the estimated external public health cost resulting from Kusile – a coal-fired power station currently under construction in the Mpumalanga Province where the majority of Eskom’s power stations are found – is between 182 and 213 million rands. This is supported by government research, which estimates that power generation activities contribute 51% to hospital admissions in Mpumalanga.  

We are calling on the public to vote for Eskom in the Public Eye Awards for neglecting to promote people’s health instead of its profit margins. Vote at

Megan Lewis is the Media, Informations and Publications Campaigner at groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa 


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Megan Lewis

Megan Lewis is the Media, Informations and Publications Campaigner at groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa


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