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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

Triumph of the Human Spirit – a symbol of hope
2015-08-24

Ahmed Kathrada discusses his latest book, Triumph of the Human Spirit.
Photo: Johan Roux

“A triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness; a triumph of the new South Africa over the old.” – Ahmed Kathrada

Ahmed Kathrada, stalwart of South Africa’s liberation struggle, visited the Bloemfontein Campus on 18 August 2015 to launch his latest book, Triumph of the Human Spirit. Turning page after page, the reader travels back with Uncle Kathy – as he is fondly known – to revisit Robben Island with the more than 300 guests he has accompanied since 1994. With each photo – be it a celebrity or school child, head of state or famous artist, friend or royalty – the significance of the island is eternalised, right alongside Ahmed Kathrada.

Message of triumph
“Why this specific title for the book?” Prof André Keet, Director of the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice (IRSJ), asked during the book launch. “Robben Island,” Kathrada answered, “should not be remembered only as a place of suffering – that’s history. But the message of Robben Island is the message of triumph – triumph of the human spirit over all sorts of adversities.”

Speaking about Kathrada’s quiet but profound impact, Zaakirah Vadi, editor of the book, said “I think Uncle Kathy does not realise what an inspiration his own strength of spirit is”. The fight for human values and dignity was “honed and perfected in the cells of Robben Island,” she said. “It created the vision for a new South Africa and, as Uncle Kathy puts it, the triumph of the new South Africa over the old.”

UFS surprises Ahmed Kathrada with a birthday cake.
Photo: Johan Roux

Freedom was sacrifice
This triumph was not achieved without a cost, though. “No freedom comes on a platter,” Kathrada said. “Freedom was fought for. Freedom was sacrifice. Through the sacrifices of those who did not survive, we are still here to tell the story.”

And that is exactly what Triumph of the Human Spirit does. As Kgalema Motlanthe writes in the foreword, “This book serves as a preservation of history and a symbol of hope.”

Birthday celebration
Just as the event seemed to come to a close, members of the Student Representative Council carried a candle-lit cake – shaped in the number 86 – toward Kathrada. This surprise was organised by the UFS to celebrate his birthday on 21 August 2015. And, as the audience cheered and sang, Kathrada’s smile spread like a light across the hall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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