Broken Land is about the battle between climate change, mining and human rights in Mpumalanga province, South Africa

Mpumalanga is home to 46% of South Africa’s high potential arable soils, but it is also home to twelve coal- burning power stations. These power stations, while providing electricity for an energy desperate South Africa, also have a devastating and lasting impact on the environment and the health of local people.

Mining licenses are granted by the South African government on the condition that mines follow strictly defined Environmental Rehabilitation and Social Development Plans, meant to safeguard the ecology and allow local people to benefit from the mineral wealth of the land. But it is clear that these conditions are not being followed and that the health and economic well-being of both the land and its people are being jeopardized.

Vast tracts of fertile, arable land are being ripped up, the landscape scarred with the black pits of coal mines while coal burning power stations, including the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, the Sasol Synfuels facility, spew noxious gasses into the atmosphere.

Miners and residents alike suffer from numerous respiratory conditions and water meant for drinking and farming is contaminated with pollutants from the mines.

Poverty remains the status quo for the majority of residents in the province as the mines and power stations have failed to deliver on the local employment policies they had agreed to. In recent years the situation has taken on a further sinister dimension as the former Glencore coal mines have been taken over by Optimum Coal Holdings Limited: a conglomerate owned by the Gupta family who are embroiled in corruption and nepotism scandals that are affecting the very highest levels of the South African government.

The coal power stations not only contribute to global climate change, but also wreak havoc on the province itself which was one of the hardest hit during the droughts of 2015/2016, the worst in decades, which farmers and scientists say is but a taste of things to come in the future. With water already scarce, the poisoning of precious fresh water supplies with sulphur run-off has jeopardized the water resources necessary for agriculture and also for the Olifants river catchment, which provides water for most of the interior of South Africa.

The aim of this project is to look at both the macro issues like pollution, poverty and climate change while also personalizing the experience of the local people who are on the front lines of this crisis and provide us with a glimpse of what the future could be like for the country and indeed the the world if this calamity continues unchecked. 

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