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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

UFS research sheds light on service delivery protests in South Africa
2015-01-23

UFS research sheds light on service delivery protests in South Africa

Service delivery protests in the country have peaked during 2014, with 176 major service delivery protests staged against local government across South Africa.

A study by the University of the Free State (UFS) found that many of these protests are led by individuals who previously held key positions within the ANC and prominent community leaders. Many of these protests involved violence, and the destruction had a devastating impact on the communities involved.

This study was done by Dr Sethulego Matebesi, researcher and senior lecturer at the UFS. He focused his research on the dynamics of service delivery protests in South Africa.

Service delivery protests refer to the collective taken by a group of community members which are directed against a local municipality over poor or inadequate provision of basic services, and a wider spectrum of concerns including, for example, housing, infrastructural developments, and corruption.

These protests increased substantially from about 10 in 2004 to 111 in 2010, reaching unprecedented levels with 176 during 2014.

The causes of these protests are divided into three broad categories: systemic (maladministration, fraud, nepotism and corruption); structural (healthcare, poverty, unemployment and land issues); and governance (limited opportunities for civic participation, lack of accountability, weak leadership and the erosion of public confidence in leadership).

In his research, Dr Matebesi observed and studied protests in the Free State, Northern Cape and the North-West since 2008. He found that these protests can be divided into two groups, each with its own characteristics.

“On the one side you have highly fragmented residents’ groups that often use intimidation and violence in predominantly black communities. On the other side, there are highly structured ratepayers’ associations that primarily uses the withholding of municipal rates and taxes in predominantly white communities.”

 

Who are the typical protesters?

Dr Matebesi’s study results show that in most instances, protests in black areas are led by individuals who previously held key positions within the ANC - prominent community leaders. Generally, though, protests are supported by predominantly unemployed, young residents.

“However, judging by election results immediately after protests, the study revealed that the ANC is not losing votes over such actions.”

The study found that in the case of the structured ratepayers’ associations, the groups are led by different segments of the community, including professionals such as attorneys, accountants and even former municipal managers.

Dr Matebesi says that although many protests in black communities often turned out violent, protest leaders stated that they never planned to embark on violent protests.

“They claimed that is was often attitude (towards the protesters), reaction of the police and the lack of government’s interest in their grievances that sparked violence.”

Totally different to this is the form of peaceful protests that involves sanctioning. This requires restraint and coordination, which only a highly structured group can provide.

“The study demonstrates that the effects of service delivery protests have been tangible and visible in South Africa, with almost daily reports of violent confrontations with police, extensive damage to property, looting of businesses, and at times, the injuring or even killing of civilians. With the increase of violence, the space for building trust between the state and civil society is decreasing.”

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