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Coalition Letter to Mr. Valli Moosa, Environment Minister of South Africa in Regard to Importation of Toxic Waste from Australia


Thursday 14th September 2000

Minister Valli Moosa
Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
Private Bag X447 Pretoria 0001
By fax: 021 - 461 5838/012- 310 3611

copy to: The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs


Dear Honourable Minister Moosa:

Re. Imports of hazardous waste from Australia and South Africa's involvement in the hazardous waste trade

We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the government of South Africa has so lightly dismissed commitments to the global community and in particular to all Africans by authorizing the import of 60 tons of hazardous waste from Australia.

In 1992 at the Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the global community agreed by consensus to Decision I/22, forbidding developing countries from importing hazardous wastes.

In 1994 at the next Basel Convention Conference of Parties and one in which South Africa was in attendance (and was to ratify a few months later), over 60 countries agreed by consensus on a global ban on the export of hazardous wastes from the wealthiest, and high waste producing countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to all other countries (Decision II/12). 

In 1995, with South Africa a full party, the Basel Convention Conference of Parties chose, again by consensus, to transform the ban decision into an amendment of the Convention (Decision III/1). These three decisions have never been revoked or repealed and are to be honoured. Indeed at the last conference of Parties (1999) countries were asked in consensus decisions to report on their implementation of Decision II/12 and were urged to ratify the Ban Amendment at the earliest opportunity.

Since the 1994 meeting, South Africa has been a full party to the Basel convention and joined in the consensus that created the Basel Ban amendment and joined in urging all countries to ratify it at the earliest opportunity. Is South Africa now going to report to the global community that they have chosen to ignore their own commitment and the wishes of the international community in a treaty of which they are full Parties?

That would be a great shock to the rest of the African continent, for it was the African group of nations that so diligently pressed the global community to enact the ban following dumping scandals in the late 1980s that saw selected African countries targeted as convenient dumping grounds for hazardous wastes produced in Europe, the United States and other rich, high-waste producing countries. South Africa itself fell serious victim to waste imports for recycling when Thor Chemicals throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s imported many tonnes of hazardous mercury wastes.  As you know, South Africans have paid dearly for these hazardous waste imports (which were supposedly going to a "state of the art" facility), in deaths, ill health, and in a continuing environmental management nightmare.

In 1987-1989, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) passed numerous resolutions condemning any imports of hazardous wastes into the African continent. In 1989, all African nation members of the Lome IV Convention, agreed in Article 39 on a full ban on the imports of hazardous wastes from any destination for any reason. So committed were the African nations to ensuring that a full ban was necessary, that they agreed to adopt our own African Convention -- the Bamako Convention in 1991. This Convention is now in force but has yet to be ratified by South Africa. African nations were instrumental in pushing the Basel Convention toward a full global ban in 1994 and again in 1995 when the Basel Convention agreed to adopt the global ban as an amendment to the Convention.

The fact that this amendment remains in the course of garnering the necessary ratifications to enter into official legal force, in no way detracts from the fact that the Parties to the Basel Convention, Lome Convention, and the Organization of African Unity are on record as clearly having condemned such toxic trade imports to Africa.

To our knowledge this is the first time that Parties to the Basel Convention (South Africa and Australia) have deliberately chosen to ignore decisions of the Basel Conference of Parties and publicly flout it. And it is particularly shocking that a country that would take this shameful step would be South Africa, a leader nation among African States, a group of states which promoted the global ban in the first place.

The idea that somehow this import is justified because it is for “research” or “recycling” purposes, or that the residues from the process will be re-exported to Australia is absolutely irrelevant. The Basel Ban decision has no exemption for research. Recycling processes are specifically covered by the Basel Ban as it is well understood that almost all waste trade in recent times is destined for recycling operations which are often highly polluting and in any case, still result in the avoidance of practicing waste minimization at source and therefore work against the principles embodied in the Basel Convention (Article 4, para. 2). And finally the fact that the residues that were not released as fugitive emissions on South African soil were returned to Australia has no bearing on the applicability of the Basel Ban whatsoever.

Finally, as stated above, the argument that South Africa has not officially ratified the Basel Ban amendment in no way excuses South Africa from abiding by the consensus will of the international community, and the African community in particular. 

For the above stated reasons, we the undersigned organizations, committed to upholding the global and African waste dumping bans, demand to know how and why the decision to import hazardous wastes from Australia was made, and demand a clear announcement from you that this will never take place again. Finally, in order to show good faith, we ask that your office immediately initiate steps to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment (Decision III/1) and the Bamako Convention, and to ensure that the necessary legislative and institutional steps are undertaken to implement and enforce these conventions.

Sincerely yours,

Linda Ambler, groundWork

On behalf of:

Jim Puckett, Basel Action Network (BAN)

Marcelo Furtado, Greenpeace International

Bryan Ashe, Earthlife Africa - Durban

David Fig, Biowatch

Karen Kallmann, South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering (SAFeAGE)

Warrick Stewart, Wildlife and Environment Society of SA-Port Elizabeth

Mandla Mentoor, EJNF- Gauteng

Moeketsie Leputhing, Meadowlands Environmental Group

Davin Chown,Earthlife Africa – Cape Town

Jim Phelps, Zululand Environmental Alliance

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