Durban Activist wins International Environmental Prize
Desmond D’Sa wins Goldman Environmental Prize
Durban’s tireless campaigner, Desmond D’Sa, is one of six grassroots environmental activists from around the world who has been chosen by the US based Goldman Environmental Foundation to be awarded the prestigious 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize.
Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary year, the Goldman Prize is awarded annually to environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions. Two other South African environmental activists have previously won the Prize: Bobby Peek, who won in 1998, and Jonathan Deal, who won the Prize last year. D’Sa joins five other fearless leaders from around the world who are working against all odds to protect the environment and their communities. The 2014 recipients come from India, Indonesia, Peru, Russia, South Africa and USA.
“For the past 25 years, the Goldman Environmental Prize has honoured heroic grassroots environmentalists for their achievements around the world and this year is no exception,” said David Gordon, executive director, Goldman Environmental Prize. “From fracking to palm oil development, the 2014 Goldman Prize recipients are not only tackling some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems; they are also achieving impressive environmental victories and inspiring others to do the same.”
D’Sa has been awarded for rallying South Durban’s diverse and disenfranchised communities to successfully shut down the Bulbul Drive landfill - a toxic waste dump that exposed nearby residents to dangerous chemicals and violated their constitutionally-protected right to a safe and clean environment.
“Desmond carries an enormous amount of respect in the south Durban community. He has a natural ability to inspire and energize residents, uniting them as one in the fight to protect the environment—an incredible feat given the racially divided communities in the region.” continues Gordon.
“As activists we all work tirelessly, against extreme odds and in frustrating circumstances to achieve our goals, and we don’t expect accolades for this work.” said D’Sa, “So I am really honoured by the acknowledgement this award provides not only for me but for the people I work with and the communities who have benefitted from the closure of the Bulbul landfill site. As an international award it reminds us of the global fight we have against exploitation of the poor and the duty we have to the environment.”
Paying tribute to South Durban residents D’Sa said: “The closing of the Bulbul Drive landfill is a remarkable triumph and a deserving victory for the hundreds of tenacious and brave residents who campaigned tirelessly for years to close down the landfill.”
“Almost 70 percent of Durban’s industry is in south Durban, home to more than 300 industrial-scale facilities such as crude oil refineries, paper mills, and agrochemical plants. It is also home to 300,000 residents, who were forcibly relocated here by the apartheid regime to create a cheap labour pool for the emerging industrial economy. They bear the brunt of industry’s toxic chemicals, leading to the basin’s infamous label of “cancer valley”—a reference to the area’s high rates of cancer, along with unusually prevalent cases of asthma and bronchitis,” explained D’Sa who in 1996, co-founded the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), where he started as an unpaid volunteer.
D’Sa has now turned his sights on fighting the expansion of Durban’s port, "a R250 billion project that stands to displace thousands of people without compensation and exacerbate problems such as waste management, pollution, and traffic."
The winners will be awarded the Prize at an invitation-only ceremony on Monday, April 28 at 5:30 pm at the San Francisco Opera House. The event will be streamed live online (www.youtube.com/goldmanprize). A ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. will follow on Wednesday, April 30 at 7:30 pm.
Detailed biographical information, photographs, and broadcast-quality video of all the winners in their home countries are available by request or online at
About the Goldman Environmental Prize
The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1989 by late San Francisco civic leaders and philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman. Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. For additional information about the Prize and previous winners visit www.goldmanprize.org.
D’Sa joins this year’s winners: Ramesh Agrawal from India who organized villagers to shut down one of the largest proposed coal mines in Chhattisgarh; Ruth Buendia Mestoquiari from Peru united the Asháninka people in a powerful campaign against large-scale dams that would have uprooted indigenous communities still recovering from Peru’s civil war; Suren Gazaryan from Russia led multiple campaigns exposing government corruption and illegal use of federally protected forestland along Russia’s Black Sea coast near the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics; Rudi Putra from Indonesia dismantled illegal palm oil plantations that are causing massive deforestation in northern Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, protecting the habitat of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino. Finally Helen Holden Slottje from USA helped towns across New York defend themselves from oil and gas companies by passing local bans on fracking.
Background on the journey to the Bulbul Drive Landfill Closure
In 1990, Wasteman, a large waste management company, opened a landfill—without consultation or input from local communities—to accommodate hazardous waste from nearby plants. By 2009, the Bulbul Drive landfill was approaching maximum capacity and Wasteman submitted an application to expand the lease on the landfill to 2021. When Wasteman’s lease came up for renewal, local groups tapped D’Sa and SDCEA to reinvigorate a long-standing campaign to shut down the toxic waste dump for good. D’Sa began organizing the south Durban community to unite in opposition of the landfill. A vigorous, participative, public, multi-pronged campaign followed. This is one of many campaigns and issues that D’Sa, the SDCEA and local community groups have and continue to tackle to reduce the burden of pollution in south Durban
Facing growing community opposition, Wasteman announced in August 2010 that it was withdrawing its application to expand the toxic waste dump. In November 2011, the landfill officially closed and ceased all operations.
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