Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Opposition to a smelly landfill in Durban has united residents of both low-income and high-end residential areas, who cite an increase in sore throats, persistent headaches and other ailments. A series of pickets and marches, known as the "toxic trek", have been held in the past few months against EnviroServ Waste Management’s Shongweni landfill site.

The last of these protests took place on Saturday and was attended by thousands of protestors from Dassenhoek, KwaNdengezi, Shongweni Dam and Nature Reserve and Cliffdale, as well as surrounding rural areas. Abhorrence for the landfill also struck a chord in the wealthier areas, including Hillcrest, Kloof and Assegay.

The protest action culminated in the handing over of a memorandum of demands to EnviroServ, the Environmental Affairs Department and eThekwini Municipality. Residents felt that apart from producing a foul smell, the landfill was also using illegal toxic waste disposal methods that were harming the environment and compromising their health.

Sipho Mthembu, who works at the nearby South African Jockey Academy, said the smell was unbearable. "I have lived and worked in this area for decades, but lately the smell coming from that place [the landfill] has been getting worse," he said.

One of the unlikely environmental activists is Siyanda Chonco, a resident of Cliffdale. He said he decided to join the fight because local residents starting getting sick. He accused EnviroServ of "literally getting away with murder" simply because government officials were not enforcing environmental regulations.

"The smell as you get as you get closer to the landfill confirms that something is amiss here. What is worse is that poor people are leaving close to it. Some residents say they experience persistent blocked noses, sore throats and headaches. We cannot take this anymore. This place must close down," he said.

Lauren Johnstone, one of the leaders of the protest marches, echoed Chonco’s sentiments, adding that recent studies showed that EnviroServ was not complying with standard air safety regulations.

The environmental affairs department and the eThekwini Municipality has since issued EnviroServ a notice of the intention to revoke or suspend its licence to operate the landfill site. Albi Modise, an official from the department, said they had continued to receive complaints about the landfill for the past year. The Green Scorpions had visited the site several times and the department has since issued EnviroServ with a compliance notice.

The department has also opened a criminal case against EnviroServ. "The National Prosecuting Authority is currently in the process of reviewing the docket and will thereafter make a decision on whether or not (and which parties) to prosecute," Modise said.

However, EnviroServ accused the government of playing to the gallery instead of looking at facts. This week, CEO Dean Thompson said that the company required more time to respond to the accusations: "We will write and motivate why it is not necessary to revoke our licence because we are fully compliant with all the rules and regulations."

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