A Blog Post by Rifqah Tifloen, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg Researcher and Fundraiser

Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) is a fundamental human right. It underlies peaceful, stable, and inclusive societies – where people and communities feel fulfilled and connected to their cultures. As such, the presence of coal mining and the construction of power stations in Lephalale in Limpopo Province continues to negatively impact this right. Not only are communities unable to access water but they are also prevented from carrying out their beliefs, since they are unable to access ancestral graves. These threats and the related issues, formed the focus of the study.

WATCH this short film to get a better sense of the issues covered: Mapping the Sacred: Voices from the Waterberg

Through its interaction with affected communities – in  Lephalale and wider Limpopo Province – and in collaboration with the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute decided to investigate.

Image: Youth from Lephalale

The goal was to develop a case study report accompanied by a short documentary film that highlights the importance of FoRB in development and identifies the ways that coal-mining projects impact these rights. As a result of their ongoing education and advocacy work with communities affected by energy decisions in the country, Earthlife Africa and SAFCEI are well positioned to undertake this study.

This collaboration creates a unique entry point in advancing the plight of coal-affected communities and move toward more ‘religion-aware’ thinking in the face of the national #JustTransition that needs to happen. At this critical moment, as the world attempts to transition to a more just and sustainable economy, South Africa must recognise and prioritise FoRB as a human right on par with other rights. In this light, religion is understood as a system of knowledge, practice, and human agency that can make a meaningful contribution to the emergence of a global citizens’ movement.

The value of documenting and analysing the possible impacts of coal developments, on faith communities, is critical to the broader study of religion, and its intersections with race, class, and socio-economic issues. This allows us to better understand concepts such as political agency or freedom. We also get to dig deeper into the questions around how agency is imagined and who gets to imagine political agency, in the context of FoRB.

Image: Ithuteng Women

Moreover, this study questions who decides what kind of beliefs deserve state protection. This research, therefore, is an effort to drive real change in our economy-energy-environment space – while considering FoRB. This is particularly important now, as the world seeks to phase out fossil fuels and to meet the nationally determined contributions that were agreed between 194 countries in the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The learnings and findings from our case study recognise how faith or faith communities can strengthen social and economic capital. As a result, a key opportunity we see emerging from this research, would be to explore the potential for more ‘religion-aware’ or inclusive development that integrates FoRB in the national #JustTransition. This transition has been identified by the global labour movement as an emerging platform and tool that informs future development in the country.

Image: Public participation in Limpopo; Credit: The Dollie house

Here is an excerpt from the blog post shared by our partners the Institute of Development Studies (IDS):

 Earthlife Africa and SAFCEI’s research paper, which will be published in a forthcoming CREID book, situates the importance of land and its sacred ties for belief and spiritual practices, building evidence towards the under-researched intersectionality of the environment and FoRB for marginalised cultural and religious minorities in South Africa. In the case of the coal developments in Lephalale, the environmental impacts also amount to FoRB violations, and the energy giants Eskom and Exxaro are directly culpable.

This blog draws on the paper ‘Sustainable Faith and Livelihoods: Promoting Freedom of Religion or Belief in Development’, written by Rifqah Tifloen of Earthlife Africa and Matome Makgoba of SAFCEI, which will be published as part of the forthcoming CREID collection ‘What about us?: Global perspectives on redressing religious inequalities’, a compilation of pioneering case studies and analyses of FoRB in practice by practitioners, researchers and activists across three continents.

 Click this link for more…

Follow Earthlife Africa Johannesburg on Facebook and Twitter.