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20 May 2021

S. Africa: Landmark ‘deadly air’ pollution case against the government finally gets to be heard in court

On Monday, 17 May 2021, the Pretoria High Court started hearing arguments for the first time start in a case that has become known as the “Deadly Air” case: a case about the toxic air pollution on the Mpumalanga Highveld. The applicants, Mpumalanga community environmental justice organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (VEJMA) and environmental justice group groundWork are asking the court to declare that the poor ambient air quality in the Highveld is a violation of Section 24 of the Constitution, which provides that “everyone has the right to an environment not harmful to their health or wellbeing”. Mpumalanga accounts for about 83 percent of South Africa’s coal production, and Eskom owns the 12 (of its 15) coal-fired power plants located in the area in and around the HPA. The case also features Professor David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and Environment, who has intervened as a friend of the court. He was admitted in order to provide relevant evidence, based on expert opinion, on the adverse impacts of air pollution and the enjoyment of human rights.