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South African activists to visit Ireland

SCREENING: ‘Shell, BP, Engen & SDCEA’ –a short film about the community organizations mobilizing against the oil refineries in Durban South Africa; as well as some related recent short films from Ireland.
DISCUSSION: Q&A -open discussion with Des D’Sa from SDCEA and Siziwe Khanyile from Groundwork.
DATE:-Thursday 11th May 2006, Dublin 8, An Taisce, Tailors' Hall, Back Lane, (near Christchurch Cathedral, across the road from Mother Redcaps) 8.30 PM
-Friday 12th May 2006, Mayo, Glenamoy Community Hall, 8.30 PM
In early May two environmental activists from Durban, South Africa will be in Ireland to meet some of the County Mayo residents and their supporters who are protesting the building of a high-pressure gas pipe and refinery near Rossport. The South Africans are Des D’Sa and Siziwe Khanyile who have both been involved in lengthy local struggles for cleaner air and corporate accountability.
While they are in the country we will hold two screenings of the short film ‘Shell, BP, Engen and SDCEA’ (as well as some recently finished Irish films) and follow the screenings with a discussion with Des and Siziwe.
Des is a local resident turned environmentalist who comes from one of the most polluted residential communities in the country. The South Durban Basin is a place where 285,000 people live next door to 2 of the largest oil refineries and numerous other high polluting industries. This area plan is a throwback from the apartheid era, but even after 12 years of democracy big business still seems to have the governments permission to pollute.
Des is part of an organized community network called the South Durban Environmental Alliance [SDCEA] who do their own air samples to counter the spin from these wealthy industries. SDCEA and another environmental justice group called Groundwork disseminate this information to the residents and use it to mobilize against these petrochemical giants. Siziwe Khanyile is the Air Quality Campaigner within Groundwork, her interest is in human rights and justice and she currently works with community groups affected by the operations of petro-chemical industries in South Africa.
SDCEA website:
Groundwork website:
Shell to Sea website:

Profile on Desmond D’Sa
Desmond D’Sa is the Chairperson of both the Wentworth Development Forum and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, and is credited by many for uniting the South Durban community in tackling the high air pollution levels experienced in this area.
Des (49) was born in Cato Manor and spent the first 15 years of his life there, until the residents of Cato Manor were forcibly removed under the Group Areas Act. Des and his family were moved from their productive smallholding in Cato Manor to a tiny flat in Wentworth, South of Durban. Des vividly describes the painful social and emotional upheaval caused by these forced removals.
Wentworth was an artificially created neighbourhood made up of people forcibly removed from all over Durban, and thus there was little sense of “community”. In the 1980s gangsterism became rife in Wentworth. Des and others together founded the Wentworth Crisis Committee which sought to bring peace between the over 20 gangs. The Committee organized soccer matches, concerts and fun days for the gang members and gangsterism became all but a nightmare of the past.
In 1994 Des was a founding member of the Wentworth Development Forum (WDF), which was originally formed to address housing issues. Des remains to this day the chair of the WDF. While working on housing issues he became increasingly aware of the high prevalence of asthma, dermatisis and cancer, within the community. He became increasingly convinced that this had something to do with the pollution in the area.
In April 1995 some children found a drum in a vacated factory and rolled it into the adjacent playground where the children continued to play with it. This drum contained lindane, an organophosphate. Two children ingested the lindane and had to be hospitalized. This incident further opened Des’ eyes to the hazards posed by the many industries in the area.
Two weeks before the lindane incident, Mandela visited South Durban for the official opening of a wax plant. The community used Mandela’s visit as an opportunity to publicise their concerns and held a protest march against the industrial pollution.
In 1997 various community groups from the various suburbs in South Durban came together to form the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA). The Alliance has succeeded in uniting residents from the Bluff (traditionally a conservative white suburb), Wentworth (Coloured), Umlazi (Black), Isipingo and Merebank (Indian) in a common goal to clean up the air in South Durban. Des has been the Chair of the Alliance since its inception.
Des is full of praise for his colleagues on the Alliance’s committee (“an excellent bunch of guys”). Likewise his fellow committee members of SDCEA are full of praise for Des. Says Mark Colvin:
“I have worked with Des for the last 10 years on environmental matters in South Durban. In spite of the numerous other commitments to various community causes that Des has, he has been one of the most dedicated and consistent members of SDCEA. Des spends more time in the office than any other SDCEA member, he seldom misses meetings and never takes his eyes off the prize: a better and healthier environment for the South Durban community. He may be a thorn in the side for the local polluting industries but he has been instrumental in getting the government and industry to put millions of rands into researching and improving the environment in our area''
In speaking to Des it is clear that his passion is the community. Nothing gives him greater joy than to see the people of Wentworth, once so divided, unite and stand dignified against the injustices that have shaped their lives.
Says Des: “I want to make a difference. I am going to work even harder. I have no space for hatred and bitterness. Hatred and bitterness hold you back. Negativity doesn’t help anything.” And with this he rushes off to yet another meeting with industry to negotiate on behalf of his community.
Des is married to Beatrice and has three children and two grandsons, a five year old and a year old.

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) is an environmental justice organization based in south Durban. It is made up of 14 affiliate organizations1, and it has been active since its formation in 1996. It is considered successful for many reasons, one of which is that it is a vocal and vigilant grouping in terms of lobbying, reporting and researching industrial incidents and accidents in this area. It contributes to the struggle against Environmental Racism for Environmental Justice and Environmental Health.
Advocacy and lobbying is one of the many tools used in south Durban, and the SDCEA has used this extensively to fight for better air quality in the locale, and this tool has led to many successes.
Before we look at some of SDCEA’s successes, a description of the area would be useful. South Durban starts from the tip of the Durban Harbour and expands as far as Umkomaas in the south. There are two major oil refineries here – Engen and SAPREF. These industries plus Mondi and Sappi (paper mills) are the largest polluters in south Durban. However, there are many other smaller industries (at least three hundred) here, and there is no comprehensive list of each industry and what it contributes to the toxic soup in the air.
SDCEA’s first protests were made even before SDCEA was a formal body. In 1995 Nelson Mandela went to Wentworth to open Engen’s expanded plant, Phase 2. This was SDCEA’s initial public protest and ex-president Mandela insisted on speaking to the protesters present. The result of this was the biggest gathering of stakeholders in the Durban City Hall, approximately 600.This process was led by the former Deputy Minister of the Environment, Bantu Holomisa. The policy that came out of this process was that industry had to come up with programs to reduce pollution. This was a total failure and community groups like SDCEA had to continue to put environmental damage, incidents and accidents in the public domain, to get governments’ response and attention.

One of the first successes of SDCEA was its formation as an Environmental NGO. Participants cut across all race, creed or colour lines in South Durban on common issues. Creative thinking individuals and organizations formed this organization due to the realization that there would be strength in diverse numbers. Quite soon after its inception, members realized that the strength of the organization would be the quality of the information gathered on the various industries and on the many accident and incidents that occur in south Durban. The media also turned out to be a crucial ally – and SDCEA has increased its use and effectiveness of this over the years. Another strength is its ability to mobilize the local people around environmental justice issues which in the past seemed separate because of a lack of knowledge or information.
Effective use of research has also been a key. It is pointless for a community organization to give out incorrect information. Academics and local community support and knowledge have played a crucial role in organizing and synthesizing information. This led to international links, particularly with the Danish Nature Foundation who funded SDCEA for the Comparative study between Oil refineries in Denmark and Durban. By comprehensively researching this issue and producing this book, it became a tool for lobbying for better technology to be used in south Durban. Also, the Danish partners assisted in the installation of the Geographic Information System (GIS) in the SDCEA office.
This captures all community pollution complaints. Local and provincial government use a similar system for their Monitoring of Air Pollution. This also produces Pollution Maps, which have been given to local schools. This has given community important information to have debates and discussions with the polluting industries. On the whole, we could comfortably state that all of the above has led to greater environmental awareness. This has been achieved through many protests, research and media articles as well as public meetings and workshops. The strategy has also been successful due to networking with environmental organizations both nationally and internationally.
A good example of this is that SDCEA, along with groundWork and Friends of the Earth International, confronted Shell International about the incidents, accidents and high level of pollution from their refinery in Durban along with other fenceline communities from other parts of the world. This strategy has gained the SD community international NGO collaboration, as well as international media attention. Some of the books written about Shell include; information about SAPREF contributed by the SDCEA. They are Riding the Dragon by well known American author, Jack Doyle; Leaking Pipelines – a book about Shell/BP in South Africa in collaboration with Friends of the Earth – Netherlands; Shell – Failing the Challenge was presented at the Shell AGM 2003 and Behind the Shine was the title of the report issued for Shell’s 2004 AGM.1
A major strength of SDCEA has been the sharing of correct and relevant information in many different ways. SDCEA organizes a number of workshops, seminars, public meetings which contributes towards public participation, education and mandates for action. We also give a number of presentations to diverse forums. SDCEA actively work on the ground and responds to all incidents of pollution from the residents.
A Toxic Tour called “The Cradle to Grave” has been mapped out, and SDCEA has given many tours, which educates international, national and even local community visitors. Learners and educators from all levels of institutions regularly take advantage of this learning activity.
We welcome volunteers and your
assistance in the following:

  • Monitoring
  • Reporting
  • Research
  • Participating in Workshops
  • Attending EIA public meetings
  • Organizing campaigns

Contact the SDCEA offices: Tel: 461 1991 or 468 9069
SDCEA has become a “one stop knowledge shop”, for students, academics and learners. We distribute information on a range of environmental topics, free of charge. Students regularly research issues in south Durban, and SDCEA facilitates this. We produce a newsletter every three months, which is distributed locally.
In an attempt to further our influence, SDCEA works closely with learners at schools. We produced the recent publication called Applied Meteorology and Climatology in South Durban. This is aimed at educators and learners to inform and enlighten them about pollution issues, and how relevant they are to our daily lives.
SDCEA is also known for its Bucket Brigade. The Bucket Brigade takes independent air samples, when called out by local communities. Often, when an industry is particularly smelly or smoky the SDCEA receives floods of complaints from the local community. One of the things we do about it is to take an air sample.
Current member organisations and representatives include: –

  • Wentworth Development Forum (WDF):Desmond D’Sa, Catherine Goordeen 031 – 461 1063
  • Treasure Beach Environmental Forum (TBEF):Frank Appenah 073 487 4263 0r 031-468 7329
  • Silverglen Civic Association (SCA):Krish Naidoo 031 - 403 4439 or 082 5533 907
  • House of Worship: Pastor Roy Nair 083 691 8251 or 031 – 467 3101
  • Merebank Clinic Committee (MCC): Mrs L. Perumal 072 243 8976
  • Isipingo Environmental Committee (IEC): Zakia Khan 902 4964
  • Earthlife Africa (EA):Bryan Ashe 031 201 1119
  • Clairwood Ratepayers Association (CRA): Rishi Singh 031 465 6337
  • Christ the King Church Group: Shirley Scullard-Peterson 031 467 0723 or 083 792 5683
  • Bluff Ridge Conservancy (BRC):Brenda Pratt, Carl Knauff 031 – 467 2555
  • Isipingo Ratepayers Association: D.R. Nowbuth 902 4781 / 082 940 4774
  • Joint Action Committee of Isipingo (JACI): Mr. Jazbhai 031 – 902 1094
  • Austerville Clinic Committee: Tilly Stuart 031 – 461 2846
  • Athlone Park Residents Association: Ted Holden 031 – 904 1691

Posted Date: 
4 May 2006 - 11:16am