The environment we live in determines the quality of life we live. Environmental Statistics revealed in 2015, that one out of ten people will die in Orange Farm by the time they reach 18 years of age due to pollution-related diseases that are mainly caused by illegal dumping. This revelation proves the opening statement and also highlights an area that requires focus – development and transformation – which is the polluted environment/land we live in.
In many ways, the environment we live in makes us who we are; from the information we have to how we behave. We from cultures based on our environment and we get subsistence from the environment. We also make socio-political decisions based on the environment we live or find ourselves in so that without doubt, the environment plays a huge role in the development of people from all walks of life.
The social state of South Africa is also in shambles with high rates of unemployment, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, alcoholism, crime and violence against women and children. The education system is not responsive to the lived experiences of the poor and particularly those in townships and rural areas.
Townships have a number of spaces that have not been allocated which are used as dumping sites and more recently, churches have mushroomed on these public spaces. Some of these spaces that are meant for recreational purposes such as parks and community centres are taken up by NGOs and those with close ties with politicians, leaving no room for youth or community development and access to opportunities. I say environmental justice is social justice because most, if not all, of our social ills of addressing environmental injustice. All the areas that are currently used as dumping sites can be used to create opportunities for communities. There are a number of possibilities and what has to work is something tailored for the benefit of the entire community.
One thing that can be considered would be creating an economically enabling environment for the youth providing free stalls to sell their products and services (T-shirts, accessories, art, etc), or stalls to exhibit their work (i.e. books and innovation) activists, entrepreneurs and local business. Such a space creates employment and alleviates poverty for the surrounding households. Another thing that can be considered is to create spaces of dialogue and democratic participation.
We need to transform the land that is not allocated but is used as illegal dumping spaces in such a manner that addresses the immediate issues of communities, such a poverty, unemployment and inequality, even through dialogue. By creating such spaces, this will encourage and motivate the youth and future generations to turn nothing (dumping sites) into something (that works for everyone). We need to develop environments that promote the culture of learning, activism and human development.
Income-generating projects can also benefit from the use of this unused land. Agriculture is one of the many projects that can thrive in these spaces and in turn the people producing this food can then sell it to the community and local businesses in malls and shopping complexes to generate income for themselves and the development of the community.
With the number of these spaces a lot of projects can erupt, all with different purposes that serve the entire community. Linked with a common purpose of township/community Development,
Environmental Justice can be Social Justice.