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The use of photo-voice in exploring Merebank's Grade 8 learners' and community environmental alliance's experiences oil refinery pollution (2007-2015)

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This study explored Grade 8 learners’ and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance’s (SDCEA) experiences of pollution in the South Durban basin (SDB). This pollution has been caused by recent and past incidents of explosions that took place in the refineries in the South Durban area. Different health effects, as well as the socio-economic impacts of pollution were also highlighted in the study. The aim of the study was to contribute towards the understanding of the long-term experiences of pollution in the South Durban communities, and the negative effects of pollution on their lives. A questionnaire, two focus group discussions, as well as two interviews were used in the generation of the data, which was then transcribed and further analysed in line with the three research questions of the study, namely: 1. RQ1: What are Grade 8 learners’ experiences of pollution with regard to the oil refinery incident of November 2007? 2. RQ2: What are Grade 8 learners’ and the SDCEA’s experiences in terms of the effect of pollution on their lives? 3. RQ3: How can photo-voice be used by Grade 8 learners to respond to the community’s concern about air pollution? Photo-voice was used as a focal lens through which the literature was reviewed. Furthermore, it served as the core framework of the study. In answering the first research question, three ways of experiencing this incident were noted: a) Fear and restlessness; b) Powerlessness, and c) Agony. With regard to the second and the third research questions, the findings revealed that there was absolute unanimity from the Grade 8 learners and the manager of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) that air pollution in the South Durban area was caused by the industries in the area. This specifically referred to two refineries and a paper-mill. Also, it was revealed that accidents, flares and emissions from these industries did not only impact negatively on the health and lives of the South Durban residents, but these affected plants as well as non-living things in the area. The study also showed that the industries in the South Durban area did not only cause air pollution, but they also contributed to water and land pollution. Of significance was the unanimity about the fact that air pollution affected teaching and learning in the schools around the South Durban area. Learner and educator absenteeism was high due to ill-health caused by pollution in the area. In addition, when explosions occurred, schools that were close to the refineries had to close for a few days. The denial of these industries in acknowledging responsibility for air pollution is unjust. There was also a lack of law enforcement on the side of government towards these industries, even though the government knew that the emissions from the industries in the South Durban basin far exceeded the national, as well as the international, standards of emission. This is perceived as an unwarranted denial of the South Durban community’s right to quality of life. The use of photo-voice in this study provided a space for such concerns to be raised. In this regard, it showed that photovoice can indeed be used to ‘empower’ and ‘emancipate’ communities in need.


Master of Education in Education Studies. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Edgewood 2016.


High school students--Health and hygiene--South Africa--Durban., High school students--South Africa--Durban--Social conditions., Petroleum refineries--Education--South Africa--Durban., Petroleum refineries--Environmental aspects--South Africa--Durban., Theses--Education., South Durban Community Environmental Alliance.