Our Burning Planet

PROVINCIAL DISASTER

Culpable homicide case opened against Ramaphosa and Co after killer KZN floods

President Cyril Ramaphosa in Clermont, Durban on 13 April 2022 during an inspection of flood-hit parts of KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Climate justice activists have opened a case of culpable homicide against President Cyril Ramaphosa, his ministers and other government representatives after the deaths of more than 300 people in the KwaZulu-Natal floods. The activists argue that the disaster could have been avoided if the government had implemented adaptation and mitigation strategies.

The Climate Justice Charter Movement opened charges of culpable homicide against President Cyril Ramaphosa and a string of public representatives over the people killed during the KZN floods last week. 

Janet Solomon of Oceans Not Oil, Shaakira Davood of Youth for Climate Action*, Nora Seneka of The Active Citizens Movement and Desiree Laverne of Greenpeace opened the culpable homicide case at the Mayville police station, on Thursday 14 April, at 11am.

Others implicated are Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe; Minister of Fisheries, Forestry and the Environment Barbara Creecy; deputy chair of the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) Mohammed Valli Moosa; KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala and eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda.

Solomon said Durban was reeling from the destruction wrought by the latest deluge and the suffering was broadly felt.

“More than 300 people lost their lives. There are expectations that the death toll will go up, given that many persons have still not been accounted for. This is worse than the Life Esidimeni tragedy in which 144 innocent people lost their lives because of negligent and unlawful government action,” she said.

In fact, after Solomon’s statement, the death toll had climbed to over 443 by Monday.

Solomon recalled that last week, President Ramaphosa said during an eNCA interview:  “This disaster… obviously is part of climate change. It is telling us that climate change is serious. It is here, we no longer can postpone what we need to do — the measures we need to take — to deal with climate change.”

Ramaphosa vows comprehensive KZN recovery effort, zero corruption tolerance

Culpable homicide

She said culpable homicide was the unlawful and negligent killing of another human being. 

“We have a government that is breaking its own laws, commitments to the Paris Agreement and the Constitution as it relates to our rights to a safe environment. We have a moral and constitutional duty to hold our leaders to account.”

Solomon said it was long-overdue that climate should be central to all socio-economic and political decisions. 

“The Climate Justice Charter Movement has been calling on the government to take climate seriously in face-to-face engagements since 2018. The climate adaptation and mitigation strategies must be put on the table now. It seems talk is cheap for our President; the people of KZN need action.”

She said the President was aware that continued fossil fuel exploration and production offshore and onshore would lead to years of carbon emissions that would destroy more lives, livelihoods and ecosystems.

“Our President also knows the urgent need for an ecologically sound, just transition to support low-income communities. The science (Brown et al, 2018) has shown the feasibility and economic viability of a 100% renewable electricity system for South Africa, meeting the energy needs of all citizens at all times, which is cost-competitive with fossil fuel-based systems, even before externalities such as global warming, water usage and environmental pollution are taken into account.”

“They have established that a 100% renewable electricity system requires no reinvention of the power system; rather only a directed evolution of the current system is required to guarantee affordability, reliability and sustainability,” she said.

Sufficient renewables

Solomon said in less than six years there could be sufficient renewable electricity generation and storage technology to convert entirely to renewables. However, the government aimed to not only consume more coal, oil and gas, but to actively explore and produce more, with the aim of 30 oil and gas wells by 2030 and a gas-based economy. 

“All this in direct contravention of climate science, which is predicting that what we’ve seen in Durban this past week will become more and more frequent and extreme.  

“And like in this week, we will see more and more deaths because of this intention on the part of the government to pursue more oil, gas and coal, plus its unlawful negligence — its acts of omission — to prevent further emissions and to protect the vulnerable from increased inequality and poverty,” said Solomon.

Solomon said the government had failed to take the climate crisis seriously and should be held accountable for its dereliction of duty. 

Solomon said the government had been part of the COP and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process since the early 1990s. Almost three decades later, not much had happened to protect South Africa from the worsening climate crisis. 

“As a signatory to IPCC reports, the South African government signed off on the 2021 report AR6 Climate Change: The Physical Science Basis, which affirms we are living in a world of climate extremes and urgent action is needed. The South African government also signed off on two reports released this year (Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability in February 2022, and the Mitigation of Climate Change Report, released in April 2022) which confirm the need for urgent climate emergency action. Yet the government has stood by,” she said.

Solomon said there was a clear pattern of destructive and extreme weather patterns in KZN as a result of the climate crisis.

“La Niña-induced droughts from 2014 to 2016 decimated livestock and crop farming across the province, leaving many subsistence farmers without food. In 2019, devastating floods and mudslides killed over 80 people including a six-month-old baby; a tornado also had devastating impacts in the province. And late last year and at the beginning of 2022, the province witnessed another devastating flood that caused severe destruction in towns such as Ladysmith, which led to a State of Disaster,” Solomon said.

According to Solomon, South Africa is not dealing with a natural disaster that could not be foreseen, given the urgencies and concerns raised by climate science and lived experience.

Climate emergency footing

“If the South African government took its Paris Climate commitments seriously, heeded climate science and appreciated the pattern of extreme climate impacts in everyday life, the country would have been on a climate emergency footing a long time ago. We need climate justice for the victims of failed government leadership,” she said.

She said the harms of this flood were the result of an uncaring, rotten, corrupt and failing government, at national, provincial and local government levels. 

“Instead of looting, mismanagement and fomenting violence, the ANC in power in KZN should have been using public money to upgrade infrastructure, provide homes, lead in mitigation, adaptation and ultimately a deep, just transition. Instead, it has brought great harm to the people,” Solomon said.

She said there was a history of the ANC government not listening to the Climate Justice Charter Movement and the warnings about the worsening climate crisis. 

“In October 2018, together with more than 60 allies, we called for an emergency sitting of Parliament to deliberate on the significance of a 1.5°C report of the UN-IPCC, particularly what this would mean for vulnerabilities the country will face, and the implications for climate policies. The government ignored us. 

“In April 2019, after the devastating floods in KZN, we called on the government to declare a climate emergency and to develop a just transition plan for South Africa and address the multiple shocks that climate science warned were going to get worse. Again, the government ignored us.”

“In 2020, we called on the government to adopt the Climate Justice Charter, endorsed by 261 organisations, and to put the entire country on a climate emergency footing to deal with the devastating impacts of the climate crisis. We shared a climate science document prepared by South Africa’s leading climate scientists on the dangerous climate future we face and the need for action,” she said. 

Solomon said they also shared with Parliament a memorandum from communities wanting an end to hunger, thirst, pollution and climate harm.

“We have been ignored. We reiterated this call in 2021 when we gathered outside our Parliament on 9 November, 2021. We were ignored again. The ANC Government refused to listen, and South Africa does not have a just transition plan; it does not have a mitigation strategy to stop more coal, oil and gas extraction and use. In fact, it wants to do the opposite. 

“Nor does it have an adaptation plan to deal with multiple climate crisis shocks. Mere disaster relief measures are just piecemeal and reactive; they will not work. The country needs to be on a climate emergency footing,” Solomon said.  

Pursuing more gas

She said instead of taking the climate crisis seriously, and despite being aware of climate science, the government had pursued more gas, coal and oil investments. 

“It also wants to invest in expensive and dangerous nuclear power. The ANC government pursued the gas amendment bill and the upstream petroleum development bill, while neglecting to fulfil its bare minimal commitments to the Paris Climate Accord,” said Solomon.

Solomon said the Presidential Climate Commission had been failing to address the real issue of a deep and just transition.

“It is just a smokescreen while the government continues on its destructive and ecocidal path. It is clear that unless we force the government to act, nothing will get done and innocent lives will continue to be lost,” she said.

SAPS spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe did not respond to questions sent by Daily Maverick. DM/OBP

*A factual error in this article was corrected at 3.25pm on 19 April 2022.

 

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  • The case is fraught with complications, and while I understand the legal action taken, I have no doubt it will not be successful. And that has nothing to do with the suspicions of the legal apparatus being “captured”.

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