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Environmentalists sue South Africa over air pollution

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South Africa will in the coming days be held in a tough legal battle pitting environmentalists in the country who say the government has failed to address high air pollution levels in an area which is home to coal-fired power stations and refineries.

In the case filed in Pretoria High Court on Friday, environmental justice group groundWork and community organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action, want the court to find that the government is violating their constitutional right to a healthy environment for people living and working in the densely-polluted Highveld Priority Area.

Section 24 of South Africa constitution guarantees everyone the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being.

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“Together with groundWork, Vukani has decided to use litigation to push government to take urgent steps to deal with the high air pollution and in the interest of our health and to protect our right to clean air,” Vukani chairperson Vusi Mabaso said in a statement.

The Highveld is one of three areas declared by government to be “priority areas” because of their air pollution – the Vaal Triangle Airshed Priority Area, and the Waterberg-Bojanala National Priority Area.

Five people are cited as respondents in the court papers. They include environment, forestry and fisheries minister Barbara Creecy, the national air quality officer and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Mr Ramaphosa was included in the case, according to the papers, because air pollution is a “matter of national importance,” and because of the president’s “overall responsibility for coordinating the functions of state departments and administrations”.

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