Sasol case drags on, but does pollution stop?

Sasol case drags on, but does pollution stop?

Speedy prosecution, an end to pollution and payment for rehabilitation is essential, says WaterCAN.

Image: WaterCAN

The criminal case against Sasol for allegedly discharging water contaminated with chemicals including vanadium into a tributary of the Vaal River was postponed on Monday 20 November to 5 July 2024. The postponement was agreed between the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and Sasol, at the NPA’s request to allow it time to prepare the very technical case for trial.

OUTA and its WaterCAN initiative attended the hearing in the Evander Regional Court.

WaterCAN wants a speedy prosecution and also assurances that the pollution which Sasol is accused of causing has ended.

“We do not want this matter to drag on for years with no resolution. We want assurances that the pollution has stopped and that the Department of Justice will ensure that the NPA has the resources to fully and speedily prosecute this case,” says Dr Ferrial Adam, Manager of WaterCAN.

Approximately 19 million people are understood to be dependent on the Vaal for water. WaterCAN believes that the public is entitled to clarity on the environmental clean-up, as there is no clear information available on this. While the court case is underway, apportioning responsibility for stopping the pollution and ensuring the clean-up seems to be on hold.

“Polluters must not only pay but in addition be responsible for rehabilitation. We found vanadium in our samples, which seems to point directly to Sasol as the only company in the area believed to deal with such chemicals,” says Adam.

The case against Sasol SA Ltd started in the Secunda Magistrate’s Court but has since been transferred to the Evander Regional Court. Sasol faces criminal charges of polluting the environment over years through the discharge of contaminated water. The charge sheet names Hannes le Roux, the senior legal manager at Sasol Plaza Secunda, as representing Sasol as the defendant in the case. Advocate Mike Hellens, SC, is appearing for Sasol; in court on Monday, Hellens predicted that the case would not get to trial.

Sasol has previously denied the pollution allegations.

The charges are in terms of the National Environmental Management: Waste Act (NEMWA).

Sasol is accused of constructing a desalination plant without the legally required environmental authorisation at Sasol Secunda Synfuels in Secunda, and illegally disposing of waste containing vanadium, diethanolamine and potassium chloride through the chemical drain valve in a way that was likely to cause pollution or harm to health and well-being. The chemicals were in water which was used in cooling the facility and also discharged into the Klipspruit River, which discharges into the Vaal River.

The company faces six counts:

  • The unauthorised disposal of waste at the Sasol plant between January 2012 and February 2019;
  • The unlawful dismissal of a whistleblower who in good faith disclosed evidence of a potential environmental risk, in connection with the dismissal of Ian Erasmus, who worked as a process artisan at Sasol until he was fired in July 2020;
  • Disposal that is likely to cause pollution, by disposing of the vanadium into water for cooling and into the river between January 2012 and February 2019;
  • Commencing with listed activities without environmental authorisation, in connection with the disposal of waste between May 2003 and December 2005; and
  • Commencing with listed activities without environmental authorisation, in connection with the construction of the desalination plant between June 2013 and December 2014.

Convictions on four of these counts carry sentences of up to fines of R10 million and/or up to 10 years’ imprisonment; counts 2 and 6 carry a sentence of up to R5 million or five years’ imprisonment.

Sasol was served with charges in July 2022 and first appeared in court on 20 September 2022.

The company, known as the second biggest polluter in the country (after Eskom), has for years faced increasingly strong criticism over its environmental record, including air pollution caused by emissions from its Secunda plant which does not comply with minimum emission standards (see here). Sasol has said that it aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. However, the company’s AGM on Friday 17 November was cancelled due to protests by climate activists and after shareholders Old Mutual Investment Managers and Ninety One said they planned to vote against Sasol’s climate report (see here and here).

More Info: 
A voicenote by Dr Ferrial Adam can be found here.


About WaterCAN:
WaterCAN is a dedicated environmental organisation committed to preserving and protecting South Africa’s water resources. With a mission to promote responsible water management and raise awareness about water quality, the organisation empowers communities to become proactive stewards of their local water sources. If you would like to support our work, kindly Donate Here.

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