Air pollution and financial crimes: the effect on the common good of our citizens.

by Fr Peter Knox, SJ


Last week, apart from the annual Arts Fair hosted by FNB in Johannesburg and the conference of literacy practitioners in Gqeberha, two events took place that are significant for the justice of our society: The national conference of the Association for Clean Air was held in Polokwane. And, the conference against money laundering and financial crimes took place in Fourways. These both bear directly on the common good of the citizens of our country.


We are probably aware of illicit financial flows. Earlier this year, Al Jazeera TV Network ran a four-part series on the illegal laundering of money via South Africa to break the international sanctions against some members of the Zimbabwe government. I was living in Kenya then and was embarrassed to explain to my community members that South Africa has a well-regulated banking sector. It takes crimes by one rotten apple to undermine the reputation of our whole financial sector. It is not good to be grey-listed alongside Nigeria, Uganda, Haiti and South Sudan (for example) and to be placed under increased monitoring by the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF.) With their confidence undermined, people are less likely to trust our South African banks and try their own devious means to take money out of the country. On a more day-to-day basis, we are increasingly aware of people trying to steal our hard-earned cash (if we have any) with internet crimes, and we are constantly warned not to give out our passwords or reply to any fishy-looking emails requesting our details. Let us never lose our vigilance.


The quality of our air bears directly on the health of every one of us. Many non-communicable diseases are caused by poor air quality – from cooking on house fires or breathing the smog from our industrial plants or motor vehicles. Air pollutants, whether gases or very fine particles, which cause our beautiful sunrises and sunsets, are directly linked to cancers and pulmonary diseases. In large areas of South Africa, we do not have clean air. Returning recently after spending ten years in Kenya, my throat has been assaulted by the Jo’burg smog. Our lifestyle depends so heavily on fossil fuels (coal, petroleum and gas) that are inefficiently combusted that we see the smoke in the air and just accept this as a disadvantage of living in South Africa. However, it is not a necessary consequence of living in the continent’s most industrialised economy. We can demand that the standards that are in our law books concerning the quality of our air be more strictly enforced.


As citizens, we must make our voices heard at the highest levels. God would like us to be guardians for our brothers and sisters. If we do not help them when they have ample means to change, God will hold us equally responsible for their misdeeds and misfortune. (We hear this in Exodus 33:7-9.) And in the Gospel last week, Jesus encourages us equally severely to correct the relations between ourselves and our brothers and sisters, making peace, if necessary, by involving the whole community. God gives us the authority to determine how things should be on this earth.

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