Environmentalist’s death a loss to all

Muna Lakhani.

Friends and family of renowned Wynberg environmentalist Muna Lakhani are gutted by his sudden death.

Mr Lakhani, 62, died at his home on Sunday May 19. The cause of his death is still unknown. Mr Lakhani was the founder and national coordinator for the Institute for Zero Waste in Africa (IZWA).

He was also part of a small and diverse group of people who founded environmental justice organisation Earthlife Africa, which has been fighting pollution and defending people’s right to a healthy and safe environment since the height of the state of emergency and oppressive apartheid system three decades ago.

Born in Durban, Mr Lakhani moved to Cape Town ten years ago.

His close friend, Satish Dhupelia, said Mr Lakhani had had a deep passion and respect for a greener environment and social justice. He was a strict vegetarian.

An activist until his death, he recently wrote in a letter published in the Mail & Guardian, “Don’t recycle plastic, ban it altogether”, about the “plastics industry having had zero new responses in 25 years to the global rebellion against the impact of their mostly toxic products on people and the planet.”

He also spoke out on other issues – mercury poisoning, the coal industry, fracking and the government’s costly nuclear deal – while promoting renewable energy.

In 2018, Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) took legal action against the government’s proposed nuclear deal. And in October 2017, Earthlife Africa red-flagged the trans-shipment of uranium between Namibia and America through South African ports.

“Who will ensure that communities that are near the transport routes will not be exposed to dust? The bottom line is that this is an unnecessary risk to us all. Surely, if the material originates in Namibia, then the ship can pick up in Namibia,” Mr Lakhani said.

Earlier this year, he commented on proposed changes to the Municipal Planning By-law which regulates developments and land use in Cape Town (“Residents comment on by-law”, Bulletin April 4). He said changes to the cell-mast laws were being rushed through – without adequate public participation – to allow industry to install 5G everywhere and immediately.

“The 5G technology required lots of small, low masts all over the place, despite studies showing that 5G posed many possible dangers to both people and the planet,” he argued.

Justine Hansen, of Electromagnetic Radiation South Africa (EMRSA), thanked Mr Lakhani for the work he did raising awareness about EMR and the proliferation of cell masts and wi-fi in disadvantaged communities “all in your straight talking, feather ruffling way underscored by huge concern, warmth, caring and love for those most in need”.

Patrick Bond, author of Climate Change: Carbon trading and civil society, said Mr Lakhani had been known for his deep knowledge, passion and cheerfulness.

“He was so optimistic that with the right balance of grassroots activism and technical watchdogging, the enemies of the environment and the oppressed could be defeated. Naturally, over time, some of that delightful, upbeat spirit ebbed, especially when he began suffering ailments. But it was always the combination of teacher and cheerleader that marked Muna as one of the greatest organic intellectuals I’ve ever met.”

Makoma Lekalakala, who worked with Mr Lakhani in the past, described him as”one of those who walked their talk”. She said she was glad he had lived long enough to see the zero-waste campaign and banning of single-use plastics gaining traction.

“When he started the zero waste campaign, he sounded like a madman. He was ahead of his time and truly is among the first to advocate for environmental justice in South Africa.”

A small funeral will be held for close friends and family at the Klip Road cemetery, Parkwood, today at 11am on Thursday May 30. This will be followed by a memorial and celebration of his life, open to all, from 2pm to 5pm at Tshisimani – Centre for Activist Education, 1 Batten Lane and Main Road, Mowbray. RSVP to Banu Kajee by email at sherebanukajee@icloud.com or WhatsApp 082 847 4532.

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