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Minister Molewa keynote address during handover of five asbestos free class rooms at Sealane Primary School and 8km asbestos free road at Mafefe, Limpopo

10 August 2018

Education MEC Ishmael Kgetjepe, on behalf of the Premier of Limpopo, Mr Stanley Mathabatha,
The MEC for Economic Development, Environment and Tourism in Limpopo, Mr Seaparo Sekoati,
Executive Mayor of the Capricorn District Municipality, Cllr John Mpe
Mayor of the Lepelle-Nkumpi municipality, Cllr Nakedi Sibanda-Kekana,
Kgoshi Dimo II of the Mafefe Ngwaname Moshate Tribal Office,
Provincial government representatives,
Local councillors,
Chair of the School Governing Body, Mr Freddy Kgotsoko,
Principal of Sealane Primary School, Ms Victoria Legodi,
Members of the community,

Good Morning,

Today is a historic day – I cannot emphasize this enough. If there was ever an occasion to show clearly that our government; your government lives and leads, it is today!

If there was ever a time for us to say loudly and proudly that our government is working for the people of this country and is slowly but surely turning the tide on the dark legacy of apartheid, it is today.

For any of us who want clarification the answer is simple. It was not white, urban-based learners who were built classrooms containing asbestos, exposing them to its toxic and harmful effects over the years.  It was our black learners in the townships and in the rural areas.

Even long after research and science made it clear that asbestos was detrimental to human health, and that even one small fibre can put someone at risk from contracting painful lung diseases and cancer; the apartheid government did not take any steps to protect not just black schoolchildren but also mainly black miners who were exposed to asbestos underground.

It is this government, the government of the African National Congress (ANC) that governs according to our Constitution and and a Bill of Rights that guarantees every South African, rich or poor, black or white, man or woman, adult or child, the right to an enviroment that is not harmful to their health.

It is your government that joined 50 other countries and banned the use and processing and manufacture of products using asbestos in 2008. It is your government that introduced a programme to both close and rehabilitate abandoned asbestos mines across South Africa.

It is your government that put in place health and safety regulations to protect our brothers, sons and fathers working in the mines who have come into contact with asbestos.

Most importantly, it is your government through the Department of Education, that has done an audit of just how many schools in this country have been constructed either fully or partially with asbestos – and put regulations in place to rehabilitate them in some cases, and replace them in others.

We are here today to celebrate the fruits of this labour of your government. Five completely asbestos-free classrooms at Sealane Primary School, and eight kilometers of completely asbestos-free road right here in Mafefe.

I say it again – completely asbestos-free! Before I go any further I want to congratulate the national and provincial Departments of Education for this great achievement. You have worked with us, you have travelled this long road with us towards a better life for our people. For the learners of Mafefe, and for the people of this province in general. I thank you.

Our priority as government is to address the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. We can only do so if we fully embrace the benefits of scientific and technological progress. Whereas something may have been of value and use in the past, when modern science shows otherwise, we must move with the times. This is what we as government have done with regards to asbestos.

Asbestos is known to have insulation and fire-resistant properties. This is the reason why it was used to build not just schools but also roads, houses, railway stations, police stations, government buildings and many other structures. This material was

historically mined in Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape. Because it was light weight, the fibres added strength and durability to structures.

But the use of old technologies and poor mining practices resulted in fibres being released into the environment. Furthermore, as structures degraded, the microscopic fibres were released into the air and people inhaled them.

In 2008, the Department of Environmental Affairs undertook a study to ascertain the full extent of asbestos contamination in South Africa. 

The study concluded that the remediation of approximately 40 affected areas across the country will require a 10-year period of active remediation work followed by another 10-year period of monitoring, maintenance and management to ensure its overall efficiency.

The two villages in South Africa prioritised for intervention were Ga-Mopedi village in the Northern Cape and Mafefe village here in Limpopo.

Since then, the Department has developed a Secondary Asbestos Remediation Plan which is a 10-year plan that is being implemented to remediate asbestos contaminated land in the country. The cost of the implementation of the plan is conservatively estimated at R6 billion.  

The Department of Environmental Affairs is leading national efforts to ensure traces of asbestos fibres are either totally removed or limited and working together with our communities we have both identified areas for remediation and developed minimum standards for the implementation of the Remediation Plan.

DEA chairs the National Intergovernmental Committee established by Cabinet to oversee the implementation of the Plan.  This committee includes members from affected national and provincial Departments, as well as municipalities. 

Asbestos in our environment and its effects on communities was one of the key discussions at the Asbestos Dialogue held in March 2017, and during the Chemicals and Remediation Summit held in 2015.

At these meetings participants resolved to develop and implement a National Asbestos Remediation Strategy to address challenges not covered in the Secondary Asbestos Remediation Plan.

Implementation of the Secondary Asbestos Remediation Plan is progressing well.  So far we have spent R58 million on asbestos remediation projects including the project we are here to hand over today.

In the Northern Cape we have paved the Ga-Mopedi primary school and constructed an asbestos free Ga-Mopedi community sports ground at a cost of R10 million.

In Limpopo we have constructed 2.5km asbestos free streets in Penge at the cost of R 5 million. The project here in Mafefe has been to the value of R 43 million and has resulted in the employment of 68 local community members, 34 of which are women.

Eighteen small enterprises benefitted from this construction by providing services including stone pitching, paving, building v-drains, wings and headwalls, and catering to the workforce.

Two engineering graduates from the community were also skilled during the construction of the road. I trust that the knowledge they gained will be put to good use during further work within your community, and in the country as we work to alleviate the presence of asbestos in the structures our people use on a daily basis.

As many of you know, Sealane Primary School was built in 1958. There was a building that housed 3 classrooms that was built utilising asbestos from the nearby mine. Some of you attending this event carried the dangerous material to construct the school out of the love of education. You did not know that you are bringing dangerous material to that has the potential to kill you. Over time, the building began to deteriorate with fibres being released into the environment.

As a precaution to the learners, this building was abandoned in the 1980’s  and other buildings were used to house the learners. The state of deterioration was such that it was decided that that the building be demolished and rebuilt. These are the buildings you see here today.

With regard to the road: there is approximately 100 km of asbestos contaminated roads/streets in Mafefe village that requires remediation.  Due to the limited amount of funds available, for now we have only been able to rebuild 8km of the road from Kappa towards the Olifants River and around the village during this round of implementation. 

These roads were replaced because they run next to creches and schools and will now limit the exposure of children to asbestos fibres in the air.

Remediating the roads in Mafefe is the first step to improving the economy of this area by allowing access to areas that were once difficult to enter.

This asbestos free road has the potential to link tourists to the nearby Lekgalametse Nature Reserve which is one of our pride in terms of nature conservation in the province.  In the 2018/19 financial year we are going to complete the construction of a further 10km of asbestos free road in your area. 

As I mentioned earlier, the work completed here is part of an ongoing process that won’t be finished overnight. The Department of Education together with all other affected national and provincial departments and municipalities will be moving forward with similar construction projects across this province.

Although the Department has funded the construction of the asbestos free road, and planning is underway to include other asbestos contaminated streets in its funding for construction, the maintenance of these roads remains the responsibility of the municipalities.

I am proud to announce that the classrooms we are handing over today have been furnished with desks made from the biomass collected from cleared invasive alien plants. This was made possible through our Working for Water Programme and the desks were made in our Eco Furniture Factory.

This programme is part of government’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The EPWP gives thousands of South Africans across the country not only work opportunities but also enables them to develop skills that they can use to secure full-time employment and even start their own businesses. Every day across the length and breadth of this country we are improving lives through the EPWP, including right here in Limpopo.

In conclusion Ladies and Gentlemen,

Naturally we would have hoped to have achieved more- and we acknowledge that we are behind schedule in implementing the Secondary Asbestos Remediation Plan.

To fast-track our efforts we have established a Provincial Remediation Fund situated in the offices of the premiers of the affected provinces.  This will be critical to ensure improved coordination, efficiency and integration.

During this the centenary year of Tata Madiba, let us remember his wise words; that it always seems impossible - until its done. It was once thought impossible that we could solve our asbestos in schools problem given its magnitude. Yet we are surely making progress.

Let us not lose sight of our achievements, and celebrate milestones once we achieve them. We have much to do, yes, but we have also done a great deal, so let us be proud.

Let us also remember that we each have our part to play in ensuring that we all enjoy a clean and healthy environment. Whether it is government, business or the individual citizen, we can promote environmental sustainability through our actions. The Department will soon be launching the Thuma Mina Good Green Deeds campaign to inspire all South Africans to be part of the positive future we want; and the people of Limpopo will also be part of this.

With these new classrooms and this new road, let us remember that government has given you the tools you need to improve the lives and living conditions of your community. Take care of them, cherish them, so that they are passed on to future generations. This is the greatest legacy.

I thank you.

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Albi Modise
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