The Latin phrase pro bono publico (pro bono) means “for the public good”. It refers to professional services undertaken voluntarily and without a fee as a public service for individuals or causes of humble means.
Kirsten has been involved with the Save Our iMfolozi Wilderness campaign from its inception (https://saveourwilderness.org). Firstly, with the high-profile Fuleni case, opposing an application made to the Department of Mineral Resources for an open cast coal mine in a rural Zululand community, on the border of the oldest Nature Reserve in Africa, the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. The proposed mine was to be situated in the Fuleni area, directly affecting at least 7 villages, impacting more than 1 600 households and between 12 600 and 16 000 people. It would also destroy the iMfolozi Wilderness Area. On behalf of the Global Environmental Trust, the iMfolozi Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) and ICWA, Kirsten successfully opposed the Environmental Impact Assessment and mining rights application process to prevent this mine from proceeding.
Now Kirsten represents the Global Environmental Trust, the iMfolozi Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) and Sabelo Dladla in making the Tendele Coal Mining operation in Somkhele, accountable to the law and to the surrounding communities. This includes a High Court application brought against Tendele Coal Mining and Others, interdicting the mine from operating until it has complied with environmental, planning and heritage legislation.
An administrative appeal has also been lodged with the Department of Mineral Resources against the granting of the 2016 mining right in favour of Tendele for a further 222 square kilometres.
In both these case Kirsten works closely with the Environmental Defender Law Centre in Montana, USA and has support from the RAITH organisation in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Some areas of pro bono expertise specific to Kirsten’s experience:-
Facilitating the exercise of rights relating to the environment, including access to water and burial site rights; specifically rights to object to EIA applications and mining rights applications; rights to adequate water and the ability to grow food; rights to have the environment protected and the right to preserve wildlife and biodiversity. Inevitably this means commenting on EIAs, the applications for water licences, attending water strategy meetings and collaborating with others (such as Ezemvelo) in issues of biodiversity and species preservation.
This includes disputes relating to ownership of property (informal land rights included) and the right for owners and occupiers to be properly engaged with during applications made over their land. In KZN, Ingonyama Trust land complicates issues as does the role of the Traditional Authorities in making decisions for informal landowners. No one may be deprived of property and property may only be expropriated for a public purpose or in the public interest and subject to adequate compensation.
The right to be informed, to be given information requested in terms of PAIA and the right to Just Administrative Action. Certain licences and authorisations granted by the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Water Affairs are now available without having to apply through PAIA however, this is a recent development and nothing is evident from their websites as yet. The same cannot be said for the Department of Mineral Resources which is notoriously difficult to obtain information from.
Over the last 5 years I have had the opportunity to work with many non-profit organisations (listed above). All of them are doing excellent work that affects large numbers of people at a time, often without the benefit of legal assistance. Many times the organisations are only able to take matters so far without legal intervention and facilitating a relationship with them as a ‘recognised structure’ in terms of Rule 25 of the KZN Law Society’s Rules would mean ongoing work that affects the greater community rather than on a one-on-one basis.
To empower people to stand up for themselves it is vital for them to understand their rights. I was invited by the Centre for Civil Society (UCT) to be part of a Land Rights Workshop held in Durban 2016. My role was to educate the attendees (members from various KZN communities affected by mining) on their environmental rights. This was achieved through a translator and role playing. On an ongoing basis I work with UYO and MCEJO to capacitate the Fuleni and Somkhele communities in relation to their land rights and environmental rights. The issue of the roles and powers of Traditional Leaders is one that needs to be explored too as it is increasingly becoming problematic.