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Community activists in mining areas in South Africa face harassment, intimidation, and violence, the Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report and video released today. The attacks and harassment have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilize to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants.
The 74-page report "'We Know Our Lives Are in Danger': Environment of Fear in South Africa's Mining-Affected Communities" and video cites activists' reports of intimidation, violence, damage to property, use of excessive force during peaceful protests, and arbitrary arrest for their activities in highlighting the negative impacts of mining projects on their communities. Municipalities often impose barriers to protest on organizers that have no legal basis. Government officials have failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse, and some mining companies resort to frivolous lawsuits and social media campaigns to further curb opposition to their projects. The government has a constitutional obligation to protect activists.
"In communities across South Africa, the rights of activists to peacefully organize to protect their livelihoods and the environment from the harm of mining are under threat," said Matome Kapa, attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights. "South African authorities should address the environmental and health concerns related to mining, instead of harassing the activists voicing these concerns."
The Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch documented the targeting of community rights defenders in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Northwest, and Eastern Cape provinces between 2013 and 2018. The groups conducted interviews with more than 100 activists, community leaders, environmental groups, lawyers representing activists, police, and municipal officials. Researchers also wrote to the relevant government agencies and to many of the mining companies in the research areas. Four out of eleven companies responded. The Minerals Council South Africa, which represents 77 mining companies, including some in the research areas, has stated that it "is not aware of any threats or attacks against community rights defenders where [its] members operate."
Community members in mining areas have experienced threats, physical attacks, or damage to their property that they believe is a consequence of their activism. They described being assaulted, intimidated, threatened, and their property damaged.
"We know our lives are in danger," one activist from KwaZulu Natal said. "This is part of the struggle." Women often play a leading role in voicing these concerns, making them potential targets for harassment and attacks.
In one high profile case in Xolobeni, Eastern Cape province, Sikhosiphi "Bazooka" Rhadebe was killed at his home in March 2016. He and other community members had raised concerns about displacement and destruction of the environment from a titanium mine proposed by the Australian company Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources. No suspects have been arrested in connection with the killing.
But many of the attacks go unreported or unnoticed, in part because of fear of retaliation for speaking out, and because police sometimes do not investigate the attacks, the groups found.
"South African authorities and companies should ensure zero tolerance toward threats and abuses against rights defenders in mining-affected communities," said Katharina Rall, environment researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Government departments and the police have an obligation to investigate incidents and work with mining companies to create an environment conducive to freedom of speech and to reporting threats against defenders."
Municipalities infringed on citizen's rights to freedom of assembly, imposing extra-legal requirements for protests, despite constitutional guarantees established in South African law. In other cases, it was companies themselves that requested community activists notify them of their upcoming protests, wrongfully claiming that this was a legal requirement.
Some companies have used the courts to harass activists by asking for financial penalties, seeking court orders to prevent protests, or filing vexatious lawsuits.
These meritless lawsuits - known as "Strategic lawsuits against public participation," or SLAPPs - are a growing trend globally that South Africa could tackle by adopting new legislation. SLAPPs can silence activists by hitting them with the cost and burden of mounting a legal defense. Companies have also used social media campaigns to harass activists and organizations who are challenging them, inflicting an emotional and reputational toll on defenders.
"Municipalities and mining companies want to suppress protests," said Ramin Pejan, staff attorney at Earthjustice. "But suppressing protest does not solve the underlying concerns of these communities, and upholding the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly is their legal obligation."
The groups also found a pattern of police misconduct during peaceful protests in mining-affected communities, including violently dispersing demonstrations or arbitrarily arresting and detaining protesters. South African police have also injured peaceful protesters with teargas and rubber bullets.
"These patterns of police violence and company tactics combine to create an environment of fear for community rights defenders and environmental justice groups in South Africa," said Robby Mokgalaka, Coal Campaign manager at groundWork. "For some, this has meant reducing or stopping their activism. But for many, it means putting their lives at risk while they are continuing the struggle."
"'We Know Our Lives Are in Danger': Environment of Fear in South Africa's Mining-Affected Communities" is available at:
An interview with Robby Mokgalaka, Coal Campaign manager at groundWork, a South African environmental justice organization, is available at:
For more groundWork reporting, please visit:
For more Centre of Environmental Rights reporting, please visit:
For more Earthjustice reporting, please visit:
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Environment and Human Rights, please visit:
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on South Africa, please visit:
Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.800-584-6460
“We cannot continue to capitulate to a far-right Republican Party and their extreme demands while they inflict policy violence on working-class people, gut our bedrock environmental protections, and decimate our planet," said Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
Nearly 40 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus broke with the majority of their House Democratic colleagues late Wednesday to vote against the debt ceiling agreement negotiated by President Joe Biden and Republican leaders.
The legislation, which would lift the debt ceiling until January 2025 and enact painful caps on non-military federal spending, passed the GOP-controlled House by a vote of 314 to 117, with 165 Democrats joining 149 Republicans in supporting the measure.
The bill's passage came after weeks of talks between the White House—which repeatedly said it would not negotiate over the debt ceiling—and Republicans who manufactured the standoff to pursue austerity for low-income Americans, gifts for rich tax cheats, and handouts to the fossil fuel industry.
While Republicans didn't get anything close to what they called for in legislation they passed in late April, progressives who voted against the bill on Wednesday said the final agreement will harm vulnerable people and the planet by imposing new work requirements on aid recipients and approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline—a top priority of fossil fuel industry ally Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Progressives also raised alarm over a provision that would codify the end of the student loan payment pause, setting the stage for a disaster if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Biden administration's debt cancellation plan.
"I cannot vote for a bill that guts key environmental protections and greenlights dirty fossil fuel projects for corporate polluters who are poisoning our communities, pushes our residents deeper into poverty by implementing cruel and ineffective work requirements for our low-income neighbors who rely on SNAP and TANF for food and housing, terminates the student loan payment pause, and slashes IRS funding to make it easier for the rich to cheat on their taxes," Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said in a statement.
"We cannot continue to capitulate to a far-right Republican Party and their extreme demands while they inflict policy violence on working-class people, gut our bedrock environmental protections, and decimate our planet," Tlaib added, referring to the bill's work requirements for food aid.
In total, 38 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) voted against the legislation:
Reps. Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Summer Lee (D-Pa.), Greg Casar (D-Texas), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ro Khanna, (D-Calif.), Chuy García (D-(Ill.), Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), Val Hoyle (D-Ore.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.).
But the CPC members who joined Republicans in voting yes on the bill, including prominent progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), outnumbered those who opposed it.
Jayapal, the CPC chair, said Wednesday that she could not in good conscience be part of the Republican Party's "extortion scheme" by voting for legislation that "rips food assistance away from poor people and disproportionately Black and brown women, pushes forward pro-corporate permitting policies and a pipeline in direct violation of the community's input, and claws back nearly 25% of the funding Democrats allocated for the IRS to go after wealthy tax cheats."
Bush, who represents St. Louis, added that "this agreement, whose worst elements are undoubtedly the fault of MAGA Republicans who shamefully took our economy hostage, pairs raising the debt limit with many policies that will harm our most vulnerable communities."
"I am disgusted with the chief hostage taker Kevin McCarthy and his MAGA insurrectionist conference for threatening economic catastrophe," said the Missouri Democrat. "For the good of our country, and to prevent the GOP from politicizing the debt ceiling to harm our communities moving forward, I believe we must eliminate the debt ceiling altogether."
The bill now heads to the Senate, where lawmakers are expected to act before the June 5 debt-limit deadline set by the Treasury Department.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the lone Senate member of the CPC, announced ahead of Wednesday's House vote that he will oppose the legislation, calling it "a bill that takes vital nutrition assistance away from women, infants, children, and seniors while refusing to ask billionaires who have never had it so good to pay a penny more in taxes."
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the measure's new work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients would put nearly 750,000 low-income adults between the ages of 50 and 54 at risk of losing food aid.
"The fact of the matter is that this bill is totally unnecessary," Sanders said. "The president has the authority and the ability to eliminate the debt ceiling today by invoking the 14th Amendment. I look forward to the day when he exercises this authority and puts an end, once and for all, to the outrageous actions of the extreme right-wing to hold our entire economy hostage in order to get what they want."
This story has been corrected to include Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) on the list of no votes.
"President Biden and the Democratic Party should know the passage of this negotiation is the type of harmful decision that makes our generation feel disillusioned and defeated," said the Sunrise Movement's leader.
As the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote on President Joe Biden's debt limit deal with GOP negotiators Wednesday evening, the youth-led Sunrise Movement warned Democrats that the so-called Fiscal Responsibility Act could have a major impact on the 2024 elections.
"When we're knocking on doors and on college campuses, we constantly hear young people in our generation feel like the government doesn't work for them," said Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash in a statement. "This debt ceiling deal tells these young people that the U.S. will keep polluting our air and water by approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, that our government will make life harder for working people, and that our system values billionaires over students."
"Democrats must stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline and achieve their climate goals if they want to energize Gen Z to get out and vote in 2024."
While the proposal would suspend the debt ceiling until 2025, in addition to greenlighting the contested gas pipeline, it would freeze nonmilitary spending, impose new work requirements for federal aid like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), resume student loan repayments, controversially reform permitting for energy projects, and repeal some funding intended to help the Internal Revenue Service crack down on rich tax cheats.
"President Biden and the Democratic Party should know the passage of this negotiation is the type of harmful decision that makes our generation feel disillusioned and defeated about the state of our politics," Prakash warned Wednesday.
"Building new fossil fuel infrastructure right after the approval of the Willow project is politically and morally dangerous, but it's not too late to fix this," the climate activist continued, referring to ConocoPhillips' oil development in Alaska. "Democrats must stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline and achieve their climate goals if they want to energize Gen Z to get out and vote in 2024."
\u201cThe GOP doesn\u2019t have the votes they need to pass this deal. If Democrats hold the line, we can stop it.\n\nTell Dems to vote for a clean debt ceiling deal \u27a1\ufe0f https://t.co/PmR7HGH6F1\u201d— Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05 (@Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05) 1685464612
Last year, as Common Dreamsreported at the time, young voters played a key role in preventing a "red wave" that political pollsters and pundits anticipated based on previous midterm elections, helping Democrats secure major congressional and gubernatorial victories as well as advancing a variety of progressive ballot measures.
Biden is seeking reelection next year and former President Donald Trump is leading polls for the GOP primary, followed at a distance by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. There will also be fierce battles for both chambers of Congress—currently, the fractured Republican Party holds a slim House majority, and Democrats control the Senate but lack enough votes to defeat filibusters.
Since Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) finalized their deal over the weekend—after Republicans refused to vote on a clean debt ceiling hike, despite U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's warnings of an economically catastrophic default by June 5—a growing number of progressive lawmakers have come out against the White House's compromise.
As Common Dreams reported earlier Wednesday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) decried the GOP's "reckless hostage-taking" and highlighted that "House Republicans raised the debt ceiling with no preconditions three times under the Trump administration."
Other House progressives who have made their opposition to the Fiscal Responsibility Act clear include Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC).
"Tonight I'll be voting NO on Republicans' hostage bill that maliciously weaponized the debt limit. I came to Congress to stand up for our NY-16 community, kids, and families, but this austerity bill will only end up hurting the people I came here to fight for," Bowman said. "This bill will make the poor poorer, hungrier, and sicker, while further enriching the rich through the prison, fossil fuel, and military-industrial complex."
\u201c"...I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a bill that makes it easier for fossil fuel companies to pollute and destroy the planet by fast-tracking the disastrous Mountain Valley Pipeline."\n\nThank you for standing up for our generation, @SenSanders.\u201d— Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05 (@Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05) 1685562682
After U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) came out against the bill on Wednesday, other progressives in the upper chamber joined him—including Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who tweeted that "I will not support a deal to fast-track dirty fossil fuel projects at the expense of environmental justice. I will not give polluters a Get Out of Jail Free card. I will vote NO on the default deal."
"Republicans racked up trillions in debt under Trump and would now rather deprive struggling families of food and financial security than ask the wealthy to pay their fair share in taxes," Markey added, as Republican lawmakers plan to unveil a tax proposal that would further serve rich individuals and corporations.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) also came out against the bill. Along with detailing his critiques of several provisions in a lengthy statement, he warned that "yielding to this blackmail only guarantees that Republicans will use the debt limit to hold America hostage time and time again."
"Today looks like it might be the start of a new chapter in Amazon's history," one organizer of the nationwide protest remarked optimistically.
More than 1,000 Amazon corporate workers and allies rallied outside the e-commerce giant's Seattle headquarters on Wednesday to protest the company's return-to-work policy and what they called its failure to fulfill its climate pledge.
Sign and chant slogans during the Seattle lunchtime rally—which was organized by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and Amazon's Remote Advocacy group—included "Amazon: Strive Harder," "Stop Greenwashing," and "Hell No, RTO,"—a rebuke of a mandate from Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to return to the office at least three days per week.
"Morale is the lowest I've seen since I've been working here," one Seattle-based employee who did not want to be named and has worked for the company since 2020 told Wired.
This year, Amazon terminated 27,000 workers, layoffs that mirrored cost-cutting sackings at other tech companies that overhired during the Covid-19 pandemic.
\u201cHundreds of corporate employees at the #Amazon walkout underway at the Spheres in South Lake Union. Workers calling out leadership for the return-to-office mandate and failure to reduce carbon footprint\u201d— Jackie Kent (@Jackie Kent) 1685560576
At least hundreds of other Amazon corporate employees and their supporters took part in similar demonstrations outside company offices around the nation on Wednesday, according to reports.
"Today looks like it might be the start of a new chapter in Amazon's history, when tech workers coming out of the pandemic stood up and said, 'We still want a say in this company and the direction of this company,'" Eliza Pan, a former Amazon corporate employee and a co-founder of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, toldThe Associated Press.
\u201cThanks to everyone who showed up to make #AmazonWalkout a success!\u201d— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@Amazon Employees For Climate Justice) 1685559893
Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser told Wired that "we're always listening and will continue to do so, but we're happy with how the first month of having more people back in the office has been."
"There's more energy, collaboration, and connections happening, and we've heard this from lots of employees and the businesses that surround our offices," he added.
However, Church Hindley, an Amazon quality assurance engineer, told the AP that working from home has improved his health and quality of life.
"I'm not suited for in-office work," Hindley said. "I deal with depression and anxiety, and I was able to get off my anxiety medication and start living my life."
\u201cMessages in the crowd at the Amazon walkout in Seattle.\u201d— Kurt Schlosser (@Kurt Schlosser) 1685563537
Pamela Hayter, an Amazon project manager, started the "Remote Advocacy" internal Slack channel, which now has 33,000 members.
During the Seattle rally, Hayter slammed the return-to-office mandate, saying, "I cannot believe that a company in this day and age, a company that claims to be an innovative leader in its space, would do that to one of its most precious resources—its employees."