/ 5 April 2019

Slice of life: ‘I felt the pollution in my chest’

Samson Mokoena
Samson Mokoena. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

These industries have been killing us since the 1880s. They pollute our air and water. When we work there, we get sick.

My father worked at Amsa [ArcelorMittal South Africa] for 45 years. My brother for 25 years. Talking to them, and all the other friends that worked at the factory, would make me angry. Industries here are a legacy of the colonial extractive industry that turned the Vaal into this poisoned place. They were at the heart of apartheid. And here they are still making us sick.

I remember reading the Constitution for the first time and thinking this would change. For the first time, we had rights. But then I also remember standing outside and breathing in, feeling that pollution from Amsa every time my chest opened up. I knew they didn’t care because they made sure to make the most pollution at night, when everyone is asleep.

Instead of tackling the problem, government heard that jobs would be lost and did nothing.

So I started talking to people about a new social movement in the Vaal that would fight for people’s right to clean air and clean water. Everyone was incredibly giving. We all face the same problems with industry. So, in 2006, we founded the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance. — Samson Mokoena, as told to Sipho Kings