Our Burning Planet


Cape Town residents list flooding, fires and health concerns at Climate Change Bill public hearing

Cape Town residents list flooding, fires and health concerns at Climate Change Bill public hearing
From left: Thandiswa Bulani, Siyabulela Adam Paraffin, Mzikazi Twani and Veronica Mngomezulu make submissions at the final public hearing for the Climate Change Bill in Khayelitsha on 16 July 2023. (Photo: Phando Jikelo / SA Parliament)

Residents of informal settlements and vulnerable communities in Cape Town attended the final public hearing for comments on South Africa’s first Climate Change Bill to express the debilitating daily impacts of climate change they face in their communities.

Species depletion, severe flooding, fires and health impacts from burning tyres, gas released by illegal dumping sites, constant sewage overflows and other pollution were named as impacts of climate change faced by people in the Cape metropolitan area during the Climate Change Bill’s final public hearing in the Desmond Tutu Community Hall in Khayelitsha on 16 July.

climate change bill hearings

Parliament holds a public hearing on the Climate Change Bill at the Desmond Tutu Community Hall in Khayelitsha, Cape Town 16 July 2023. (Photo: Phando Jikelo)

The Climate Change Bill underwent extensive countrywide public consultation over the past year after being introduced to Parliament in February 2022. The bill seeks to ensure the development of a coordinated, integrated and effective nationwide response to climate change and the management of climate change impacts. It also aims to ensure South Africa’s long-term, just transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy and society.

During the hearing, it was clear that people in informal settlements and vulnerable communities stricken by poverty understand that their lives, health and livelihoods are being increasingly affected by climate change. However, they said much more education and awareness needed to be provided.

The daily impact of the climate crisis

One submission came from Mhlewngi Nicolas, a small-scale fisher from Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, who said that he, with other fishers, was concerned about climate change leading to further declines in fish stocks. He said some fish species which had been plentiful in the ocean 20 years ago were now scarce, while others had vanished completely from the waters they used to frequent.

climate change nicolas

Mhlewngi Nicolas makes a submission at the final public hearing for the Climate Change Bill in Khayelitsha on Sunday, 16 July 2023. (Photo: Phando Jikelo / SA Parliament)

Nicolas, who only found out about the bill on the morning of the hearing, echoed the sentiment of others who said the government and Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment should have made more of an effort to inform and educate communities about the hearings.

Thandiswa Bolani, the chairperson of the Kuyasa Health Forum in Khayelitsha, said, “I agree and fully support the bill, but there are things we notice as a community that do not necessarily align with the law or are legal in nature.

“For instance, in our communities we have sewage that runs, which we smell each and every day. This is very unhealthy and affects us in a very negative way as a community. We also have an issue with small business owners, for instance, the ones who are always burning fires to braai meat so when people who are affected by chest problems walk past, they get affected in terms of their health.”

Bolani said that most of the structures that community members live in are built with asbestos and residents generally burn a lot of paraffin.

climate change bill

Parliament holds a public hearing on the Climate Change Bill at the Desmond Tutu Community Hall in Khayelitsha, Cape Town 16 July 2023. (Photo: Phando Jikelo)

“These are part of the health issues… which are affecting us as a community. Other businesses also affect our health and we feel we must highlight the issue of businesses around us contributing to the negative impacts on the environment, where we also end up suffering as the community,” she said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Is SA’s Climate Change Bill good enough? It depends on who you ask

Mzikazi Twani, a community leader from Town Two in Khayelitsha, said: “I support this bill, but let me explain why. I have stayed in the shacks for 30 years and we understand very clearly that global warming affects us… It is packed where I stay and those who watch me now saw the tragedy we experienced where sinkholes occur and emit stenches which affect those of us who stay there and around… As I speak now there are people there who are ill.”

In Town Two and Imizamo Yethu, shack fires and severe flooding are experienced throughout the year, killing, injuring and displacing many. Twani added that she was concerned about illegal scrapyards in their communities where cables are burnt while they sleep at night, “which affects our breathing”.

Youth alumni from Project 90 by 2030, based in Khayelitsha, a social and environmental justice organisation, made submissions calling for the bill to be more forceful and actionable, including a hard deadline for achieving net zero carbon emissions.

Holding polluters accountable

Jacqui Tooke, from Extinction Rebellion in Cape Town, said the bill had to create the power of enforcement against polluters and make it an offence for a company or institution to exceed its carbon allocation.

climate change tooke

Jacqui Tooke from Extinction Rebellion in Cape Town makes a submission at the final public hearing for the Climate Change Bill in Khayelitsha on Sunday, 16 July 2023. (Photo: Phando Jikelo / SA Parliament)

“We are concerned that those who need to make the move away from fossil fuels are benefiting too much from the fossil fuel industry, and will not do so without clear negative consequences to continuing. We are worried that some may pay small penalties and fines in order to continue their ‘business as usual’ and thus plunge us all into a path of planetary destruction,” she said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Civil society and academics urge an SA Climate Change Bill that’s tougher on big polluters

Making a submission in his personal capacity, DA MP Traverse Le Goff reiterated: “The Climate Change Bill must impose a range of harsh criminal and financial penalties on corporations for their failure to adhere to carbon budgets and sectoral targets.

“The bill must make it explicitly clear in its language and in law that company directors can be held personally liable directly, and individually prosecuted for noncompliance of the corporations they lead… to meaningfully decarbonise their operations and value-chains.”

The City of Cape Town’s response

In response to questions about the impact of dumping sites on residents, the City of Cape Town said: “Although there are numerous negative impacts of illegal dumping on community health and wellbeing, and the city is working judiciously to address this, conditions in illegal dumping hotspots are not conducive to generation of significant volumes of greenhouse gas, and illegal dumping hotspots are not significant drivers of climate change in the same way a landfill would be.

“However, if waste is set alight, as is fairly common, there is not only an impact in terms of climate change but noxious fumes can be produced which are damaging to community health. We ask that you please refrain from this practice.”

climate change bill

Zama Thembela makes a submission at the final public hearing for the Climate Change Bill in Khayelitsha on Sunday, 16 July 2023. (Photo: Phando Jikelo / Parliament of SA)

In terms of the concerns about gas released from illegal dumpsites contributing to global warming, the city advised that landfill gas is only produced when organic waste breaks down anaerobically (in the absence of oxygen). These conditions are created when waste is compacted in a landfill.

Beverley van Reenen, the City of Cape Town’s Mayco member for energy, agreed that socioeconomically vulnerable people were likely to be disproportionately harmed by climate change, particularly those living in informal settlements.

“The city’s Climate Change Action Plan focuses on reducing these risks through a range of actions, including actions focused on heat, water resilience, flooding, managing fire risk, integrating climate risk into human settlements planning, and developing a circular waste economy to reduce waste and dumping, among others,” she said.

Some of the actions in the Climate Change Action Plan that are specifically formulated to address the needs of vulnerable groups living in low-income and informal areas include:

  • Developing and implementing a network of cooling centres to reduce risk during heatwaves and high heat days;
  • A tree-planting programme to reduce the heat island effect and provide shading; and
  • Restoring the city’s rivers and wetlands to create liveable urban waterways.

“A number of materials have been developed to enable residents to take appropriate action to address climate change in their own lives. The Smart Living Handbook contains a number of practical actions that households at all income levels can take to live more sustainably, save money and reduce risks,” Van Reenen said.

What’s next for the Climate Change Bill?

The Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment will begin sitting from the first week of August to consider all submissions and inputs on the bill. This will be followed by an opportunity for parties to propose amendments before the bill is sent back to the National Assembly for debate.

Committee member and MP David Bryant, from the DA, said, “The majority of submissions made during public hearings have been in support of the bill, but it must be said that many members of the public have struggled with the concept of climate change and the detail within the bill. Many of the contributions made during the public hearings were not related to the bill itself.”

He said there had been a consistent sentiment expressed by NGOs in the climate change space that the bill was not punitive enough when it came to businesses that did not comply with emission standards.

“We have also heard concerns regarding the functioning and ongoing status of the Presidential Climate Commission and how best to take this forward. Another key issue raised by members of the public has been ensuring that a move away from coal does not further deepen societal inequality by causing further job losses, especially in provinces such as Mpumalanga,” Bryant said. DM

To read all about Daily Maverick’s recent The Gathering: Earth Edition, click here.

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