Environmental award winner talks to ‘The Witness’

2014-05-23 00:00

DESMOND D’Sa, chairperson of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, recently returned from the U.S. where he received the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work on environmental issues.

In recent years D’Sa has embarked on several environmental campaigns, including shutting down a toxic waste dump in Chatsworth that was exposing nearby residents to dangerous chemicals.

The Witness posed seven questions to D’Sa:

Q. What does this award mean to you and your community?

A. People struggle every day for a clean and healthy environment. It was a first-time experience for me to know what this award means.

Q. How many contenders were there for the award?

A. There are 163 of us worldwide who have been intimidated and persecuted for speaking the truth.

Q. Is there a specific project that won you the award?

A. The shutting down of a toxic waste dump site that was exposing nearby residents to dangerous chemicals in Bul Bul Drive, Chatsworth.

Q. What lessons are you bringing back home with you?

A. We are not responsible for the climate crises we are facing the world over. It’s the greedy and corrupt people who don’t give a damn about the wellbeing of the poor and the marginalised … people like you and me. We need to send out a message to these giant companies that the extraction of fuel anywhere in the word will not be tolerated. The dig-out port they are planning to develop in our name is not acceptable because only the rich will benefit at the expense of the poor.

Q. What’s your next move in trying to stop the dig-out port development?

A. While overseas I had engaged a delegation from the Japanese government and we had some extensive talks about that country funding this project. We have made it clear to them that they should not be pumping in funds to a project that will see displacement of people with no alternative homes and with no jobs.

That government has environmental policies that prohibit the use of state money to fund projects that will lead to the displacement of people. We will hold them to their word. There was an agreement between the delegation and the environmentalists that the South African government will be engaged with to discuss the port.

Q. During your meetings with the different stakeholders, what was the main focus of your discussions?

A. We were encouraging each other to stand up against those who think their wealth can be used to amass more wealth at the expense of the poor. We have made connections so if the authorities ignore our call to stop the port development, we will mobilise comrades from all over the world to make a stand against the project. In Oklahoma, poor people experience exactly what we are fighting against in south Durban. Big companies are constructing a port and again the poor are affected. We then decided together with the Progressive Environmental Alliance led by Richmond Mayor Gayle McLhou, to form the Solidarity Campaign against Chevron and Shell. In August 6, here in South Africa we will be joining the alliance on their international march against Chevron. On this day in 2012 a Chevron plant blew up. Again, the poor suffered in this accident while the rich continued with their life.

Q. Do you think enough is being done to educate pupils about the importance of caring for the environment?

A. We view the dig-out port in South Durban area as being aimed at destroying our economy in Durban, the future of our children and grandchildren. It’s for this reason that we approached schools in our area. Teachers and pupils are aware of the detrimental effects the port will have.

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