Tumelo has again lost several days at school because of sickness.
“My eyes are burning. Sometimes I can’t breathe,” she coughs.
“The doc said there is nothing we can do,” says her mother Nono Ledwaba. “We need to take her out of eMalahleni. When she goes to her grandma in Mafikeng, the symptoms disappear.”
The 14-year-old lives in house number 3094 of eMpumelelweni township in eMalahleni, part of the Highveld region turned over to mines and power plants that, according to activists, are killing local people.
Her neighbour in 3095, Lifa Pelican, has similar symptoms, which badly set back his schooling. At 25, he never moves without his inhaler, even inside his chilly home with rough-hewn walls.
“If I don’t have it with me, sometimes I can’t breathe. Sometimes I feel I am going to die,” he says.
“These mines get a lot of money and we suffer. There’s solar power. We don’t need to use these coal plants.”
Green energy such as solar and wind power account for less than two percent of electricity production in South Africa, while coal still provides 86 percent.
Lifa’s breathing troubles began after he moved to eMalahleni, at the mercy of gritty coal dust and thick whitish smoke of electricity power stations burning fuel day and night.
Relief comes when he visits his father in Nelspruit, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) away, trips that feel like a new lease on life. “I don’t use the inhaler.”
Tumelo’s own troubles began when the family moved to eMalahleni in 2007, when she was a toddler.
The trips to Mafikeng are literally a breath of fresh air — her grandmother’s home is 400 kms from the mines.
“The only solution is to close down the plants, but will this happen?” Ledwaba asks.
eMalahleni, which means “the place of coal”, is among the worst places in the world for pollution by nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, according to Greenpeace.
Read more of the story on TimesLIVE
SOURCE: TMG DIGITAL