Sick of dump blazes

2020-02-04 14:15
Members of the Pietermaritzburg Fire Department discuss the fire at the dump site on Wednesday.

Members of the Pietermaritzburg Fire Department discuss the fire at the dump site on Wednesday. (Ian Carbutt)

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Sobantu residents are “gatvol” with Msunduzi’s gross mismanagement of the New England Road landfill site that often leaves them choking on smoke.

They want Msunduzi to get its act together and start managing the dump properly or pass the reins to the provincial government.

They were reacting to yet another fire at the landfill site which left them choking on toxic smoke since Saturday.

On Monday, firefighters from Msunduzi worked alongside their peers from uMgungundlovu District, eThekwini Metro and Working on Fire, who came to help get the inferno under control.

Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the cause of the fire was not yet known.

“We anticipate that it will be put out today [on Monday],” she said.

Meanwhile, Sobantu residents say the landfill has gradually got worse over the past two years due to what they believe to be poor management.

They said they could now see mountains of trash from the distance because it was not compacted.

The township is the closest residential area to the facility.

Late last year the community held a meeting where they resolved to request to meet with the City management and leadership, however, the City has not responded.

“Last year alone we had about four fires, something that never happened before, so we felt that we should meet with the municipality so that they could tell us what was going on because we are really suffering,” said community activist Tana Mbokazi.

She said among the things they wanted to discuss was the cause of the fires and the need for regular fumigation as their homes crawl with cockroaches and other insects that migrate from the dump whenever there is a fire.

“Even during apartheid we never suffered this much because there were regular engagements between the government stakeholders and the community about the situation at the dump. They also fumigated,” said Mbokazi.

She said the ANC abused their loyalty to the organisation as they only showed any concern for Sobantu when they wanted their votes.

“During the campaign trail we are out there everyday working hard but this ANC-led municipality rewards us by suffocating us with smoke and stink from the dump and poor service delivery,” said Mbokazi.

Another resident, Nokukhanya Mtolo, accused Msunduzi of turning its back on the people of Sobantu.

She said they had already made peace with the poor service delivery they had been subjected to but they would not stop fighting for their health.

“Every time there is a fire we can’t sleep at night because the smoke fills up the entire house. My son is asthmatic and he gets attacks when there is a lot of smoke. Last year I spent more than R1 500 on his medical fees because of the dump fires,” she said.

Another resident, who wished not to be named, said she had been struggling to breathe since Sunday.

She said she planned on going to seek medical help sometime this week as her sinuses were swollen and her throat was also sore.

“I was fine before the fire started. I think it’s the combination of the heat and the smoke that’s messing with my respiratory tract.”

Simo Ndlovu said Msunduzi owed the people of Sobantu an apology for the poor management of the dump. He said something would have been done already if it was an affluent area that was affected, but both the City leadership and management did not care because they knew that people from Sobantu did not have money to drag them to court over the violation of their rights.

“The City has failed us over and over again, so we are now appealing to the provincial government to consider revoking Msunduzi’s waste management licence and taking over the dump before it kills us,” he said.

DA deputy shadow minister of environmental affairs Hannah Shameema Winkler also blamed the mismanagement of the site for the fires.

“The frequency of fire breakouts at the site has worsened over the last two years despite numerous attempts by DA local councillors to get the municipality to reinstate the landfill site monitoring committee ...

“The repeated health hazards posed by the air pollution emanating from the landfill site are unacceptable and as a matter of urgency must come to an end.”

Mafumbatha said the City was not ignoring the people of Sobantu and would be engaging them on the issues affecting them in the near future.

Meanwhile, wastepickers were left traumatised after finding the body of a newborn baby wrapped in a refuse bag at the New England Road landfill site on Monday.

Vusimuzi Ngayo made the gruesome discovery when he was looking for recyclables in the pile of waste that had been recently offloaded from a white bakkie. “The car came in with two men. We offloaded the bags and they left immediately after. It was only after we started digging through the trash and opening the bags when I saw the baby’s head,” he said.

The father of one, Ngayo, has been working at the dump for about 10 years.

He said he knew about other babies that were found by his peers in the past but was still shocked by yesterday’s incident.

“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. I actually don’t know if I’m going to get any sleep tonight,” said Ngayo. — WR.

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