Each year, the Mail & Guardian newspaper publishes a list of 200 exceptional and notable South Africans under the age of 35 in its “200 Young South Africans” list. This year, the Centre is extremely proud to announce that Leanne Govindsamy, the Head of our Corporate Accountability & Transparency programme, and Matome Kapa, head of our Activist Support & Training project, have been chosen to feature among the leading young South Africans featured in the Environmental category of this prestigious list.
Leanne is an extraordinary and fearless lawyer with a profound commitment to social and environmental justice. She has devoted her career to date to the realisation of the values and rights entrenched in the Constitution. In her interview with the Mail & Guardian, she speaks about being “part of a collective movement of lawyers and activists, all working towards realising a more just and equal society, in which all people are able to enjoy the rights and freedoms afforded by the Constitution and in which the environment is protected and preserved for future and present generations.”
Leanne’s leadership of the CER’s Corporate Accountability & Transparency programme is pivotal in the context of the urgency around environmental protection and climate change (read a recent opinion piece by Leanne in Daily Maverick: When mining trades off with the planet’s future), as well as protection of activists and activist lawyers who stand up to defend the environment. In May 2019, she led the launch of a collaborative campaign known as Asina Loyiko: United Against Corporate Bullying, aimed at highlighting the way in which corporations are using litigation to attempt to intimidate and silence activism and free speech.
Leanne has made her mark at the annual general meetings of shareholders of multinational corporations Sasol and ArcelorMittal South Africa, challenging their boards of directors about their commitments and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution. She has also led submissions to the Johannesburg Securities Exchange calling on the JSE to include climate, environmental and social rules for listed companies.
Leanne joined the Centre for Environmental Rights in October 2018, and is a valued member of the CER’s management team. She holds an LLB from the Wits University and an LLM in International Human Rights Law summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame, where she held the Ismail Mohamed Fellowship. She served as a law clerk in the Constitutional Court to Justice Tholakele Madala and worked briefly at legal NGOs in India, which reinforced her commitment to the attainment of social justice and the protection of human rights through judicial and non-judicial mechanisms of accountability. She completed her articles at the law firm Cheadle Thompson and Haysom, where she continued to work as an associate before joining Corruption Watch as Head of Legal and Investigations in 2014. She serves on the Board of the Starfish Greathearts Foundation and is currently enrolled for an MA in Anthropology at Wits University.
Matome joined the Centre for Environmental Rights in 2012, and now heads up the CER’s Activist Support & Training Project. Matome is a tireless champion for the environmental rights of communities – particularly those affected by mining.
Matome was born and raised in Go-Modjadji, a small village in the Limpopo Province, and grew up learning abut the environment and ecosystems at school, which sparked his interest in the field of environment. In his Mail & Guardian interview, he says: “While working at the Centre for Environmental Rights, I felt that rural connection, because a lot of the work was from communities in Limpopo and Mpumalanga. That work really spoke to me: to work with people who are facing these big companies and they have nothing. They are just defending their basic rights.”
Matome graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2011 with an LLB degree. While at University, Matome was an avid human rights advocate through the Street Law programme. He first joined the Centre as a legal intern in March 2012, and also did a stint as public defender with Legal Aid South Africa as part of his articles of clerkship at the Centre. He was admitted as an attorney in 2015.
Matome’s leadership of the Centre’s Activist Support and Training Project entails crucial work for the Centre. The Project hosts the annual Environmental Rights & Remedies School for Activists, a two-week course that aims to empower seasoned activists from communities affected by environmental rights violations to use the law to assert their rights, push for compliance, and hold government and the private sector accountable for violations of environment law.
Matome has also been instrumental in CER’s work on environmental rights defenders. Earlier in 2019, Matome led the CER’s participation in a joint report published by CER, groundWork, Earthjustice, and Human Rights Watch entitled “‘We Know Our Lives Are in Danger’: Environment of Fear in South Africa’s Mining-Affected Communities”. This report showed that community activists in mining areas face harassment, intimidation, and violence that have created an atmosphere of fear for community members who mobilise to raise concerns about damage to their livelihoods from the serious environmental and health risks of mining and coal-fired power plants. Read an opinion piece by Matome in the Mail & Guardian earlier this year, entitled “Mining watchdogs under attack”.
Matome acts as coordinator for the Mining & Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa (MEJCON-SA), a non-profit network of activists across South Africa who work to achieve environmental justice for communities affected by mining. MEJCON-SA has made many submissions in Parliament and to regulators on draft legislation and the Mining Charter, but has also undertaken litigation to further its objectives.
Other CER attorneys who have featured on the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans list over the years include Deputy Director Wandisa Phama (2018), attorneys Christine Reddell and Nicole Loser (2018), Head of Pollution & Climate Change programme Robyn Hugo (2015) and Executive Director Melissa Fourie (2007).