'I had to fight or die,' says Bloem resident

Bloemfontein - Bloemfontein resident Johan de Beer is living proof that one man can challenge a big company on an environmental issue and come out victorious.

He is over the moon about the SA Human Rights Commission's finding that EnviroServ’s regional medical waste incineration facility in Bloemfontein affected community members’ right to a clean environment.

The SAHRC investigated the matter after residents complained that the company’s incinerator has been billowing out large volumes of smoke for the past two years. As a result, the air in the area is polluted, affecting the health of residents in the area.

De Beer and other community members were hospitalised due to the emissions from the incinerator.

De Beer complained to the SAHRC that since he moved into the area south of Bloemfontein two and half years ago, he had been suffering from various medical conditions, including sinusitis, swollen glands, nose bleeds, dizziness and headaches. He had to receive medical attention on several occasions.

"To reach this stage, cost a lot of time and money," De Beer told News24.

"At first I thought it was a futile battle, because EnviroServ is, as far as I know, Africa’s biggest waste handler. But I had two choices: to fight or to die."

Human rights issue

The battle started in 2013, when he contacted EviroServ.

“They told me they have a licence and they are not doing anything wrong,” he said.

He then contacted the municipality, without success. After this, he called in the help of the Environmental Helpline, who helped him to lay a complaint at the SAHRC.

“It was almost impossible for a member of the public to get a plant closed down without calling in the SAHRC,” said De Beer.

He said he found it sad that it was necessary to call in the help of the SAHRC, but the good thing was the Commission agreed that the environment is a human rights issue.

“Friends of the Earth gave me a lot of support. Without their help, this would be impossible,” he told News24.

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