On Tuesday, March 13th, 350Africa and MEJN (Middleburg Environmental Justice Network) launched a Photo Exhibition, #ChenchaGuluva. The exhibition takes you through the painful journey of the effects of coal in Valbank, a community in Middleburg, South Africa.
Over 120 people from Valbank and two other coal affected neighbouring communities, Mhluzi and Tokologo, attended the exhibition.
Middleburg Mpumalanga, South Africa’s mining hub, 10KM outside city centre lies a small and yet forgotten community of about 4000 people. This community is called Valbank. Drawn to the mines where some eke a meagre earning, these Valbank men and women are united by one thing – the effects of coal on their daily lives.
Meet Lesedi Malaka. She lives with her mom and grand-mother in Valbank. At 8 years old, every day after school on her way home, Lesedi picks up pieces of coal for her and her family to use at home.
Electricity poles in their community are not meant for them, but for the factories not far from this location that does not even have clean water.
There are increasing signs of conflict in the community as families struggle for basic needs. Children play but no one knows what they are exposed to.
Meet Mrs Velile Nkabinde. She’s from KwaZulu-Natal and moved to the Vaalbank community in South Africa 20 years ago in the hopes of finding a job to support her family. After years and years of fruitless job hunting, Mrs Velile was left hopeless. Nevertheless, instead of giving up, she decided to start her own business: a spaza shop – an informal convenience shop selling everyday small household items to the community.
Mrs Velile Nkabinde has been a force to be reckoned with. She herself has been exposed to devastating effects of coal mining and as such is outspoken and driven in ensuring she leaves behind a habitable planet for her grandchildren.
Meet Mr Mbongiseni Nene. He left Kwa-Zulu Natal to seek employment in Valbank. Like Mrs Velile Nkabinde, he hasn’t been able to find a job.
Today, in addition to being part of the Valbank community committee, he coaches the local children’s soccer team.
“The coal dust is all we inhale. # – there is no place for coal in South Africa”
Meet Mr Zwelilungile Booi. He has been working in mining for over 20 years.
“Working for mine is like working in Death. When you go down you never know whether or not you will come back up again.”
“We are surrounded by mines that do nothing for us, these mines are open casts and their blasting methods crack our houses, pollute our water and create dust that is bad for our health”
The Bambanani Medical Centre in Middelburg offers free services to communities in the area. As a result of the exhibition, the people of Valbank, who previously did not have access to this important information, have been made aware of the centre’s commitment to free assessment and treatment.