How apartheid is destroying South Africa's environment

日期:2019-02-26 07:09:07 作者:弓幕 阅读:

By OMAR SATTAUR THE GRIP of apartheid may be weakening, as the current talks between the African National Congress and the Pretoria government show. But it will take years for South Africa’s new leaders to repair the damage apartheid has done to the land, according to a report from the Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC. The few data that exist on land degradation in South Africa’s Bantustans, or ‘homelands’, paint a dismal picture. A study carried out in Ciskei a decade ago showed that 46 per cent of the land was moderately or severely eroded, and 39 per cent of its pastures overgrazed. Erosion gullies in the kwaZulu reserve now resemble small valleys, many 20 metres deep. The Bantustans were fragile initially with thin topsoil, scarce rainfall and sloping, rocky ground. Now, politically enforced overpopulation, labour scarcity and poverty have made many of the homelands look more like lunar landscapes than rural communities, the report says. Of South Africa’s 35 million people, less than one-fifth are white, while 70 per cent are black and the remainder Asian or of ‘mixed’ race. Apartheid has forced a little more than half of the blacks into reserves where they have no access to education, health care, family planning or secure jobs. And extreme population pressure in the black areas has led to soil degradation and deforestation. The Worldwatch report points out that two-thirds of South Africans use wood for fuel. Research suggests that the 10 South African Bantustans started to use more fuel wood than they produced in the early 1980s. The black population has quadrupled this century, the largest increases taking place in the Bantustans, which are now net importers of food. For the white minority the ‘homelands’ are reservoirs of cheap black labour. Nearly three-quarters of the income of these areas is earned by workers travelling thousands of kilometres to do jobs in the white economy. Eking out what they can from overburdened natural resources are the elderly blacks, children and the infirm. The few able-bodied black farmers are too poor to invest in soil conservation and agricultural improvements, says Worldwatch. The institute claims that the mining industries endanger the lives of its black workforce, and scar the environment unnecessarily in a search for profits. The blacks, lacking political power, can do nothing to counter such strategies. Mine wastes acidify ground and surface waters, and release toxic heavy metals. Smelting releases sulphur dioxide and toxic air pollutants on a scale unmatched by most other industries. This is true for any country but in order to keep apartheid alive, argues Worldwatch, the Pretoria government maintains lax environmental regulations and actively protects the country’s industries. South Africa is entirely dependent on coal, since most oil exporters refuse to fuel apartheid. The low wages for black miners resulting from apartheid keep South African coal cheap. One result is wasteful use of coal and excessive pollution, claims Worldwatch. South Africa’s drive for energy independence has led to the creation of the world’s largest coal-to-oil synthetic fuels programme. The programme wastes coal and greatly increases carbon emissions, says the report. It points out that the processing of synthetic fuels produces concentrated hazardous wastes, as well as sulphur and nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. Cramped and destitute refugees from war zones have stripped the land of wood for fuel and shelter. Around Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, the deforested ‘fuelwood ring’ is 55 kilometres wide. Worldwatch also claims that South Africa has aided the anti-government forces of UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique to smuggle tropical hardwoods, ivory and rhinoceros horn out of the continent in order to help to pay for their arms. The report admits that there is no guarantee that a new government will shift to more sustainable economic policies. However,