air pollution in South Africa

Image via Pixabay

These areas have the worst air pollution in South Africa

While the main culprits may not surprise you, the bronze prize for pollution goes to a newcomer.

air pollution in South Africa

Image via Pixabay

The two regions in South Africa with the worst air pollution are repeat offenders and will not cause much surprise, but the area in third spot in this dirty race to the bottom was unspoilt wilderness not too long ago

Figures contained in a detailed air quality report, presented in Parliament by the Department of Environmental Affairs, show the Vaal Triangle’s air to be the most polluted in the country, followed by the coal fields of the Mpumalanga highveld. The third worst air quality can be found in and to the north of (“behind” in local parlance) the Waterberg in Limpopo.

The worst air pollution in South Africa: Cities and suburbs

The worst air pollution in the country is to be found specifically in the suburb of Three Rivers in Vereeniging, and the nearby townships of Sharpeville (at Vanderbijlpark) and Zamdela (at Sasolburg).

On the Mpumalanga highveld, the towns with the most heavily polluted air are Standerton, Delmas, eMalahleni (formerly Witbank), Middelburg, Hendrina and Ermelo.

In the Waterberg region the towns of Lephalale (formerly Ellisras), Thabazimbi and Mokopane (formerly Potgietersrus) were singled out for their dirty air.

Generally, air pollution levels in South Africa have remained largely stable over the last few years. Air quality is measured daily at 136 monitoring stations operated by the state and about 25 operated privately.

On top of the three worst areas already referred to above, there were a number of towns and neighbourhoods where air pollution reached unacceptable levels at least once (and in some cases more often) in the last year

Read: WHO Report: Air pollution causes more deaths than smoking

Places where pollution has reached ‘unacceptable levels’

The affected areas were Phalaborwa, George, Bellville South, Cape Town City Bowl, Cape Town Atlantic Seaboard, Goodwood, Khayelitsha, Table View, Bedfordview, Springs-Etwatwa, Springs Central, Vanderbijlpark, Olifantsfontein, Thokoza, Alexandra, Buccleuch, Soweto-Jabavu, Olievenhoutbosch, Rosslyn, Bloemfontein Central, Port Elizabeth-Walmer, Durban Central, Chatsworth, Durban-Wentworth, Marikana and Mahikeng.  

Cape Town

In Cape Town, air pollution levels are very low, but the highest levels of air pollution were measured at the Wallacedene informal settlement near Kraaifontein, in Khayelitsha and in the Cape Town city centre.


The level of air pollution in Johannesburg is generally about six times higher than in Cape Town, with the townships of Alexandra, Diepsloot and Ivory Park the worst affected areas.

Pretoria’s air pollution is about three times worse than in Cape Town. In Pretoria, the situation is worst in Olivenhoutbosch (near Centurion), followed by Pretoria West in second place and the suburb of Booysens coming in third worst.

On the East Rand, pollution levels are lower than in Johannesburg but higher than in Pretoria. Etwatwa township near Springs has the worst air quality on the East Rand, followed by the Wattville area close to Benoni. Germiston has the third worst air quality on the East Rand.


The three worst affected neighbourhoods in Durban are the city centre, Chatsworth and Wentworth.

Surprisingly the town of Standerton, which is some distance away from the province’s mining and heavy industrial hubs, measured the most polluted air on the Mpumalanga highveld, followed by Delmas second worst, Balfour third and Middelburg fourth.

In addition to the established reasons for and causes of South African air pollution, the air quality report listed power outages as a new contributing factor to a periodical worsening of air quality.