The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
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South Africans say "No" to Eskom coal

Project-affected communities take their case to the World Bank Inspection Panel


located near Lephalale in South Africa's Limpopo Province today filed a
complaint with the World Bank's independent complaint body, the
Inspection Panel, stating that a proposed $3.75 billion World Bank loan
to help finance the Medupi coal-fired power plant will significantly
damage their health, livelihoods and the environment. The complaint,
submitted by Earthlife Africa and groundWork on behalf of affected
community members, alleges that the project violates numerous World
Bank policies and poses considerable threats to local communities and
to the South African society at large. The clock is ticking, as the
proposed Eskom loan is expected to go before the World Bank's board of
directors for approval on April 8th.

Impacts on communities
Communities living near the Medupi plant contend that if the proposed
loan is approved, they would be the ones to bear the burden of hidden
costs in terms of health impacts from air pollution, elevated SO2
levels, and mercury residues in their water, air and land; constrained
access to water; and the livelihood impacts from degradation of land
and water in this largely agrarian area. Already illegal sand mining
operations are taking place in the area for the building of Medupi.

The community members who filed the complaint argue that the problems
will be compounded by plans for a number of new coal mines and plants
in the area; cumulative impacts that the World Bank failed to consider
in its assessment of the project.

Caroline Ntapoane, who hails from South Africa's polluted industrial
heartland near Sasolburg, insisted that her concern with the loan is
personal. "I
know first-hand what the communities have to look forward to, because
we experience it every day. We live it in the polluted air we breathe,
when our water taps run dry, and when our children get sick. We
shouldn't have to choose between electricity and our health."

Access for the poor
While the project's proponents claim it will provide energy access for
the poor, in reality, the project would largely benefit major
industries that consume electricity below cost, and whose apartheid-era
secret agreements prevent them from sharing the costs associated with
construction of the project and repayment of the loan.

Tristen Taylor of Earthlife Africa emphasized that, "With
massive disconnections looming due to a doubling of electricity
tariffs, a million jobs lost last year, and an effective 40%
unemployment rate, one would think that poverty eradication would be
foremost in the World Bank and the South African Government's mind.
None of Medupi's output will be for the poor, but will be used to
service multinational firms."

Conflict of interest
Not only will industries benefit, but the ruling party, the African
National Congress, is set to reap major profits from the loan through
its investment in Hitachi Power Africa, which was awarded a dubious
contract - an obvious conflict of interest. World Bank approval of the
loan will help further entrench the ANC off the backs of the poor.

"The project is expected to go before
the World Bank's board of directors for approval on April 8th amidst
serious questions about the viability of the project. "We are shocked
at the speed with which the World Bank is attempting to push the loan
through while these and other outstanding issues remain unresolved,"
adds Gerald LeMelle, Executive Director of Africa Action.

The fundamentals of the project are being questioned. "This
project is to secure uninterrupted electricity for large corporations,
such as smelters and mining houses under secretive special pricing
agreements. It is not for the millions of poor people who cannot afford
or do not have access to electricity. South Africa does not need this
says Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa.

For additional information, please visit

To receive a copy of the Inspection Panel complaint, send a request to: and

Africa Action is a national organization that works for political, economic and social justice in Africa. Through the provision of accessible information and analysis combined with the mobilization of public pressure we work to change the policies and policy-making processes of U.S. and multinational institutions toward Africa. The work of Africa Action is grounded in the history and purpose of its predecessor organizations, the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), The Africa Fund, and the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), which have fought for freedom and justice in Africa since 1953. Continuing this tradition, Africa Action seeks to re-shape U.S. policy toward African countries.