Pulp and participation: Assessing the legitimacy of participatory environmental governance in Umkomaas, South Africa
March, 23 2023 | Journal article | Environmental justice | Hali Healy
How legitimate are participatory environmental governance processes in the South African pulp and paper industry?
The Sappi Saiccor mill in Umkomaas, KwaZulu Natal (KZN) Province, is a global pulp and paper producer. It is also a major emitter of noxious substances in the heavily polluted and historically marginalised South Durban area, notoriously dubbed "cancer valley". Can the mill's corporate community engagement initiatives be seen as legitimate in the face of ongoing emissions, state complicity, and a long history of sidelining community health concerns?
This article argues that they cannot, and that the onus remains on civil society to force national discourses around participatory governance beyond hegemonic, ecologically-modernised, technocentric ideals if the concerns of residents affected by industrial contamination (locally and nationally) are to be addressed at all.
The article will be accessible free of charge until 12 May 2023.
The Sappi Saiccor mill in Umkomaas, KwaZulu Natal (KZN) Province, is a global pulp producer. It is also a major emitter of noxious substances in the heavily polluted and historically marginalised South Durban area. Taking a qualitative, narrative approach, this paper examines Saiccor's legacy of contamination, community opposition to the mill, and responses of state actors responsible for governing industrial risk. Through a conceptual framework combining theories around participatory environmental governance, legitimacy and state capture, the article explores the extent to which measures deployed by/on behalf of the Sappi Saiccor mill to engage with local residents and activists can be considered legitimate. The paper argues that prevalent corporate instrumentalism and a lack of political will continue to undermine the legitimacy of community engagement processes, which remain characterised by mistrust. It concludes the South African state cannot be relied upon to support genuinely inclusive, deliberative, empowering and reflexive governance practices. It is therefore left to organised civil society to force discourse beyond hegemonic, ecologically-modernised, technocentric ideals, and to bring issues of power, agency, and social justice to the fore of public and policy debate. The way might then be paved for strong political leadership committed to transparent, equitable environmental governance processes.
Full Paper available at
Hali H 2023. Pulp and participation: Assessing the legitimacy of participatory environmental governance in Umkomaas, South Africa. In Ecological Economics, Volume 208, 107794.