Environmental Racism is when decisions on hazardous waste siting, highway building, sewage treatment plant planning, gentrification, poor working conditions, clean-up of waste sites, burrying of nuclear waste, and delivery of services directly or indirectly impact communities of color. Environmental racism is when one's immediate environment is threatened because of a decision made by others, often to benefit the decision-makers. Environmental racism is evident within countries like the USA and South Africa, among others, and between the countries of the North and South. The export of toxic waste and obsolete and dirty technologies to countries of the South is a form of environmental racism.
Environmental Justice is bringing the social justice concept into what is considered 'mainstream' environmentalism. Environmental justice takes a holistic approach towards our immediate environment and attempts to solve the root cause of our problems. It is a synergy of health, environment, working conditions, income levels, race, gender and nationality. Look at the Principles of Environmental Justice for specifics.
Southern Africa has a horrible history of colonialism and oppression. Our work has a strong focus on that region given the complexities and beacons of hope it has provided. SAEPEJ and the Mozambique Solidarity Office provide current information regarding the political situations and the environmental status of the region.
& Informational Exchanges
People to People Exchanges
Publications & Articles
SAEPEJ has found that the link between South Africa, apartheid and the environment has received very little attention. SAEPEJ works to raise awareness on this issue through articles, publications, interviews, and public speaking engagements.
SAEPEJ facilitates communication between the two countries to share and exchange ideas, strategies, and visions for environmental justice.
People-to-people exchanges are another exciting element of SAEPEJ's philosophy. During 1995-96, SAEPEJ hopes to build on the interest developed from the report "Segregation of People, Degradation of Land" by organizing exchanges between the two countries. Five to eight environmental justice leaders from the United States will travel to South Africa to conduct workshops and trainings, and to gather further information (data, case studies, photographs) about the environmental legacies of apartheid. These trips are aimed at sharing ideas, strategies, and experiences, and to learn from the rich history of anti-apartheid struggles. The US delegation will visit sites such as Merebank in Natal, Alexandra township in Johannesburg, the squatter camps in the Western Cape, and possibly the Thor Chemicals factory. Meetings will be held with local groups as well NGOs and organizations part of the emerging environmental justice movement in South Africa. SAEPEJ's allies in South Africa have shown much interest in hosting the group and in sharing experiences with the delegation.
An exchange of people of colour activists from the US environmental justice movement to South Africa will be a significant step in leadership building and in breaking down conventional notions of environmental work. Black South Africans need to see and hear from US environmental justice activists to understand environmental work in a context other than what is commonly referred to in South Africa as "a white issue". This perspective will help black South Africans redefine and embrace the word 'environmentalism', a word which in South Africa and the US is often tainted with initiatives focused solely on conservation without regard to humans. Similarly, exposing South African activists to the environmental justice groups in the US has substantial potential for the South African movement as it does for the US movement. South Africans come to the social justice arena with decades of experience and ideas which will make the exchange rich and dynamic. South Africans have also advanced the debate around race and poverty and have to a large extent begun to embrace non-racialism. Bringing these ideas and exposing their US counterparts to these ideals enhances some of the current discussions taking place here. South Africans also bring a host of organizing models to share with US groups.
Concurrently, plans will be made for several South Africans to visit the United States. Too often, South Africans come to the US to give updates on the South African political crisis, having little time or energy for their own education. In response to this need, SAEPEJ will give South Africans a chance to visit "Cancer Alley" (Louisiana), West Dallas, Love Canal, and Native American reservations -- all sites of tremendous environmental degradation that have spurred local residents to take action. SAEPEJ anticipates focusing one of these trips on youth and students, or having a young person as part of each delegation, to help foster the current generation of activists. These exchanges will provide excellent opportunities for leadership development, information sharing, and for the forging of new and dynamic links in international solidarity.
From the 19th of April to 3rd of May, SAEPEJ brought Maria Mbengashe, founder and director of the Community Environment Network in Port Elizabeth, South Africa to the US. Her trip was a huge success in terms of linking with community groups and like-minded organizations in the US. The US groups found her visit very useful and Ms. Mbengashe went home with new ideas and inspiration from her meetings and tours here. While in the US, she participated in a conference at Dartmouth College on Race, Gender and Justice in a Sustainable Environment; appeared on NPR's Living on Earth; interviewed on the Morning Show at WBAI (New York); spoke at Columbia University; visited the Toxics Release Inventory at U. Mass. Lowell; toured the Dudley area in Roxbury; Woburn, MA; Brooklyn, NY; West Harlem, NY; and South Bronx, NY. She also briefed a number of foundations in New York at breakfast hosted by the New World Foundation. Maria's trip was a pilot project which proved that these exchanges are useful and necessary in the rebuilding of South Africa.
The cross-fertilization of ideas and resources between the two movements is an important element of this program since it attempts at redefining international solidarity. Increasingly, our solidarity work must be linked with local efforts. The linkages between the local and international must be carefully and concisely articulated to bridge the current gap between the two sections of the movement. This initiative thus has an international and domestic component -- informational and technical transfer to South Africa, and models and experience around the anti-apartheid struggle to the US. It is thus, a contribution towards the development of a new society in South Africa as we begin to undo the many challenges of apartheid.
More often than not, communities in the US are faced with the same pollution, the same polluters, and the same health effects as their counterparts abroad. Therefore, SAEPEJ emphasizes exchanges on lessons, strategies, and victories emerging from the South African and US movements for peace and justice so that communities can come together and confront the crisis in a unified and organized approach. These exchanges are ideal arenas for leadership development for people both sides of the Atlantic. SAEPEJ's extensive contact and experience with environmental justice issues in South Africa and the US gives us the unique position to undertake this exchange.
Here is a partial listing of articles in which SAEPEJ is featured: