WATCH | 'Coal kills' - activists ask big business to forget profits and put environment first

A group of activists gathered outside of the 15th Southern African Annual Coal Conference (SAACC) in Cape Town on Thursday to protest the continued investment in the country's coal mining industry.

The non-violent demonstration was organised by environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion Cape Town who were joined by other small community justice groups, united in their fight against coal mining.

"For far too long, we have accepted that coal is part of our economy, but climate change has already cost South Africa 10% of our GDP," said David Le Page, the co-ordinator of Fossil Free SA.

According to Le Page, air pollution from coal production and corruption within the fossil fuel industry have also cost the South African economy dearly.

"These are huge costs that people are not talking about," he said at the gathering.

He implored civil society, business and the government to divest in fossil fuels and rather divert that money into the "creative potential" of wind and solar energy.

"Around the world people are talking about a 'green new deal' where we address the climate emergency and we address the inequality and poverty that has for so long been taken for granted and at the same time by creating jobs in renewable energy, by creating jobs in ecological restoration, by creating jobs in sustainable agriculture," said Le Page.

Thembeka Majali, the programme officer for 1 Million Climate Jobs Programme for the Alternative Information and Development Centre, said it was worrying coal was still the most affordable energy source for South Africans.

"If this is the case, [the] government must explore other renewable energy alternatives and in areas whereby they are already affected by the closure of coal mines, the closure of coal plants, explore the possibility of converting those into solar farms where communities can also benefit," she told News24.

"The Green Bishop", Geoff Davies, said it was time the church stood behind important initiatives like Extinction Rebellion in the face of this "crisis" where industry and business have failed to intervene.

"Business, coal and oil are not listening and we have got to say, forget your profits, and there's huge profits in oil we know that, forget your profits and turn to the well-being of people and the planet," he added.

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