It was inevitable that a newspaper launched to save the country from apartheid would end up trying to save the country from itself. Reporting on environmental justice and rights was a logical progression of the newspaper’s coverage of human rights.
Eddie Koch started covering environmental stories in the early 1990s, while he was a labour and political reporter for The Weekly Mail.
In September 1994, Koch launched the newspaper’s first monthly ‘green” supplement. Called Open Africa, it covered the economics and politics of nature tourism in Africa.
Many of the crusading environmental stories featured in the newspaper have reached positive, if drawn out, resolution in the post-apartheid era.
For example, in December 1994, Koch reported on the health and environmental risks of processing mercury waste at the Thor Chemicals toxic waste plant in KwaZulu-Natal. Thor was subsequently closed down and was finally forced to pay for the clean-up in 2004.
Culling of elephants in national parks is a perennial controversy that has not yet been resolved. Koch reported in 1995 that the then National Parks Board had stopped culling, in favour of translocating elephants. In 2005, we have come full circle, with the announcement by South African National Parks that it plans to start culling again.
At the end of the 1990s, Koch moved on to pursue his interest in the growing ownership of conservation and tourism by rural communities in a private capacity. He left behind a legacy of mentorship in environmental journalism, and has remained an occasional contributor to the newspaper.
I had worked with Koch and have been the newspaper’s environmental writer since 1995. During the past decade, I have introduced and edited two green supplements that replaced Open Africa.
The Green Trust Awards supplement was a four-year partnership with Nedbank and The Green Trust. This was overtaken three years ago by the Mail & Guardian Greening the Future Awards and supplements, which encourage corporate environmental responsibility.
The M&G has been involved in breaking several environmental scandals that have led to legislative improvements. The exposure of ‘canned” lion hunting in 1998, for instance, has finally resulted in a far-reaching report that will see the sordid practice banned next year.
We were there when the Tuli elephant scandal broke, and when the residents of the Vaal Triangle started revolting against air pollution that is finally being tackled by the government.
In 2001 M&G Media bought Earthyear magazine and we proceeded to mould it into ‘South Africa’s journal for sustainable development”, to cater for a growing national interest in the topic as a result of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. The magazine was sold back to its founding editor, Arlene Cameron, this year.
M&G environmental writers have won several awards for their efforts over the years. Merit awards in the SAB Environmental Journalists of the Year Award have been won by Koch, myself and Yolandi Groenewald, the new recruit to the beat at the M&G. Furthermore, I won the prestigious Nick Steele Memorial Award in 2004.