The South African anti-fracking campaign looks set to gain ground after campaigner Jonathan Deal became the second South African to receive the coveted Goldman Environmental Prize in the United States yesterday.
Deal, who is chairperson of Treasure the Karoo Action Group, received the award and a cash prize of about R1,5 million in San Francisco yesterday for his opposition to proposed hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the Karoo.
Each year the Goldman Environmental Foundation selects grassroots activists from around the globe to honour them for their activism.
The award was established in 1989 and until yesterday Bobby Peek was the only South African to have won it, in 1998 for fighting against industrial pollution in KwaZulu Natal.
Other prominent Africans who have won it include late Kenyan environmentalist and political activist Wangari Muta Maathai and Nigerian Ken Saro-Wiwa who fought against oil pollution in the Niger Delta.
Following receipt of the award, Deal stated: “This award coincided with the end of an especially difficult year in the hard fought campaign against fracking.
“Even though I have had to keep the news to myself since November, it has been an enormous inspiration.
“I have done nothing in this campaign for my personal benefit, however, the recognition from people on the other side of the world has been a great encouragement.”
Deal said the prize money meant he was able to pay staff who have worked working at TKAG on a voluntary basis for two years, and have been able to commit to expenses that have assisted the organization in reaching rural communities.
Civil rights organisation Afriforum, which now jointly works with TKAG, said they were ready to launch grass root campaigns against fracking.
Afriforum head of environmental affairs Julius Kleyhans said his organisation was now waiting for Deal to return from the US and then jointly escalate the campaign
He said Deal would not have won such a respected global award if it was not because of the “weight” of the issue he was fighting against.
He said his organisation was doing a lot of “behind-the-scenes” work in preparation for an all out campaign which included educating people on what fracking involved and the dangers associated with it.
Previously, Deal and the TKAG have received a number of awards in recent months for their campaigning, including the WESSA Special Environmental Award in 2011, winning the NPO category for 2012 at the Mail & Guardian Greening the Future Awards and the Habitat Council’s Annual Environmental Award for 2012.
Deal said they were ready to appeal the issuing of exploration licences to oil and gas companies who want to drill shale gas wells in the Karoo.
Fracking is a technique used to extract natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth. Environmental groups believe this technique degrades the land, pollutes ground water and fouls the air. – Francis Hweshe