(Left) Judge Justice Poswa, retired Judge of the High Court, Lawrence Mkhaliphi, Biowatch`s Agroecology Manager and David Fig, Biowatch Chairperson and co-author of the book; (Right) Nompilo Mkhabela, Biowatch community facilitator at Ingwavuma, Sophiwe Dlamini, Biowatch community facilitator at Pongola, and Hlengiwe Mthimkhulu, Director of Zisize Educational Trust.

Celebrating at the Durban launch of our new book - A Landmark Victory for Justice

27 March 2013

We talk about "David and Goliath", and now we can talk about "Biowatch and Monsanto".

So said Karen Read of Diakonia Council of Churches, one of the guest speakers at last night`s launch of "A Landmark Victory for Justice - Biowatch`s Battle with the South African State and Monsanto". Guest speakers at the Durban launch included Judge Justice Poswa, retired Judge of the High Court, Bobby Peek of groundWork, Lawrence Mkhaliphi, Biowatch`s Agroecology Manager and David Fig, Biowatch Chairperson and co-author of the book.

Despite the heavy downpour, spirits were high as more than 100 people gathered to celebrate the launch of Biowatch`s much-anticipated book at the Durban Botanic Gardens Education Centre.

Written by Biowatch founder trustees Rachel Wynberg and David Fig, "A Landmark Victory for Justice - Biowatch`s Battle with the South African State and Monsanto" tells the inside story of how a reasonable request for access to GMO permit applications catapulted the environmental watch-dog into almost a decade of litigation against the South African state and biotechnology multinational Monsanto.

What has become known as "the Biowatch case" originated in a genuine attempt to access information from government about the planting of genetically modified crops in South Africa.

Judge Justice Poswa, retired Judge of the High Court, whose minority dissenting judgment in favour of Biowatch`s case had opened the organisation`s path to the Constitutional Court, said that through the Biowatch case he had come to learn more about GMOs. "All I know, like a baby quickly learns that it is not cool to play with fire, is that such organisms are potentially dangerous to the human body, in the same way I know that tobacco is dangerous to the human body," he said.

"Access to information is not easy," said Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork. "It`s important that people ask questions, that we ask why things are the way they are," he said.

"For many years, we fought for people to have access to information. And during the 1990s, the era of the new democracy, new laws were passed." said Peek. "We did not expect that after those initial victories, after processes of developing things together, that close on to 20 years later some of those victories would be reversed in a variety of different ways, mainly through the simple practice of bureaucracy."

Lawrence Mkhaliphi, Biowatch`s Agroecology Manager, said that while the Biowatch case was a great victory for civil society, the struggle for access to information was not over - the struggle against GMOs was not over. "More and more GMOs are coming into and being planted in South Africa," he said. "We have to get more information, to organise ourselves, to motivate ourselves so that we can continue to fight this battle."

David Fig, Biowatch Chairperson and co-author of the book said, "The book is saying ... let`s celebrate this victory together, let`s understand more about what happened, let`s learn the lessons, let`s pass on the lessons not only to future generations but to other organisations that may be facing the same kinds of battles over information, over sustainable approaches to agriculture, over agroecology, land struggles, water struggles ... everyone can learn from what we went through."

Anyone campaigning for environmental or social justice needs to read this feel-good David and Goliath account of what courage and tenacity can achieve. The book serves as an inspiration to civil society and a warning to those pursuing narrow profit motives at the expense of the environment.

The book can be downloaded from the Biowatch website www.biowatch.org.za. Printed copies are available for purchase - call Biowatch on 031 206 2954 or email allison@biowatch.org.za for more information.