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Earthlife Africa

Environmental movement in South Africa

Earthlife Africa is a South African environmental and anti-nuclear organization founded in August 1988, in Johannesburg. Initially conceived of as a South African version of Greenpeace, the group began by playing a radical, anti-apartheid, activist role. ELA is arguably now more of a reformist lobby or pressure group. Considered by some to be a key voice in the emerging environmental justice movement, Earthlife Africa has been criticised for being too radical, and by others for "working with traditional conservation movements" in furthering the environmental struggle.

The Earthlife Africa constitution (and name) was formally adopted at the first national conference at Dal Josophat, near Paarl (outside of Cape Town) during 1989. Earthlife Africa was chosen as a conscious attempt to avoid the split affecting two factions in GreenPeace who were vying for control of the organisation. ELA therefore took a different approach to the environmental struggle.

The ELA constitution was initially loosely based upon the Four Pillars of the Green Party and other movement documents. In attendance at this historical inauguration of South Africa's green movement were various members of related environmental organisations and ecology groups including:

  • Peter Lukey
  • Chris Albertyn
  • Mike Kantey
  • Elfrieda Strauss
  • David Robert Lewis
  • Rachel Brown

According to Jacklyn Cock, "the concept of environmental justice was first introduced in South Africa at the Earthlife 1992 conference." Environmental Justice "was articulated as a black concept and a poor concept and it took root very well’ [1] More accurately, it was the Environmental Justice Network Forum (EJNF) which was initiated at the 1992 conference hosted by Earthlife Africa on the theme "What does it mean to be green in South Africa.’ At this conference 325 civil society delegates resolved to redefine the environmental agenda in South Africa in broad terms and to move beyond the loose anarchist constitution which had bound members with 'values' as opposed to 'rights'. The South African National Conference on Environment and Development had already set the agenda of the green movement in 1991 and thus the 1992 ELA conference was merely a sequel and precursor of later development within the broader movement.

The exposure of pollution by Thor Chemicals, a corporation which imported toxic waste into South Africa, by Earthlife and EJNF working closely with the Legal Resources Centre, the Chemical Workers Industrial Union, affected workers and local communities was the crucial turning point in the re-framing and ‘browning’ of environmentalism in South Africa.[2]

Earthlife launched the People’s Environmental Centre, the Greenhouse in 2002.

2007 ELA participates in a parliamentary portfolio committee hearing into the nuclear industry, delivering submissions and hearing from widows and workers affected by the Pelindaba accident [3]

September 2010, Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan announces the ANC government decision to mothball the PBMR project. The cost to the taxpayer is in the region of between R7bn and R9.5Bn wasted on an unproven technology which could not produce a working reactor after more than 11 years of research.[4]


  • Maya Aberman (Cape Town branch) 2006
  • Nosiphiwo Msithweni (Cape Town branch) 2007


  • Apartheid is an Ecology issue
  • Nuclear Energy Costs the Earth Campaign (NECTEC)
  • Toxics Campaign focuses mainly on the prevention of proposed incinerators, through input into EIAs
  • Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Partnership (SECCP)


  • 1998: picket at Durban harbour against a nuclear waste ship
  • 2008: picket against the arrival of the USS Theodore Roosevelt [5]


  • 1998: campaign against air pollution in Johannesburg, three prominent sculptures were decorated with gas masks. They disseminate information on issues such as climate change, genetic engineering and nuclear energy


Legal cases

  • 15 September 2003 Earthlife Africa - Cape Town launched a High Court application in Cape Town, seeking to review and set aside the environmental impact assessment (EIA) authorization granted to Eskom to build a demonstration module Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) at Koeberg, Cape Town.[6]
  • 2005 Earthlife Africa (Cape Town Branch) v Eskom Holdings Ltd, Access to Information [7]

Earthlife Africa (Cape Town) v Director General Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Another (7653/03) [2005] ZAWCHC 7; 2005 (3) SA 156 (C) [2006] 2 All SA 44 (C) (26 January 2005) [8]

See also

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  1. ^ Interview, Munnik, 2004, quoted in Jacklyn Cock, Connecting the red, brown and green: The environmental justice movement in South Africa
  2. ^ Bennet quoted in Cock ibid
  3. ^ "Nuclear Energy Impact in South Africa: public hearings | Parliamentary Monitoring Group | Parliament of South Africa monitored". 2007-06-20. Retrieved 2012-08-16. 
  4. ^ "BDlive". 2010-09-17. Retrieved 2012-08-16. 
  5. ^ "Cape Town: Protest against Arms fair and Nuclear vessel visit". Anarkismo. Retrieved 2012-08-16. 
  6. ^ "South Africa Looks to Next-Generation Nuclear Power: But last week, opponents filed papers against a new pebble-bed reactor near Cape Town NICOLE ITANO / The Christian Science Monitor 23sep03". 2003-09-15. Retrieved 2012-08-16. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ "Earthlife Africa (Cape Town) v Director General Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Another (7653/03) [2005] ZAWCHC 7; 2005 (3) SA 156 (C) [2006] 2 All SA 44 (C) (26 January 2005)". Retrieved 2012-08-16.