Fed-up city residents took to the streets on Wednesday to voice their anger over the fire at the New England Road landfill site that has been burning since Tuesday morning, and the lack of action from the municipality.
Residents from Hayfields, Cleland, Athlone and other areas gathered at the traffic circle at the bottom of Hesketh Drive holding banners and placards calling for the closure of the dump site.
Jacyn Fanner, chairperson for the Cleland and Meadows residents’ and ratepayers’ association, said they have written countless letters to the municipality and sat down with numerous municipal officials to discuss some of their grievances as ratepayers, but this had yielded no results.
“We want to offer solutions to the municipality but they are not open to that so we are forced to do something more drastic. With this dump fire people are getting sick, people can barely breathe and this is not the first time.
“The dump is not being managed correctly so we had to do something drastic. We know that with Covid-19 it’s not the best time to be out here, but it has got to this and if the municipality does nothing such gatherings will continue and will start to get momentum up to a point where I’m afraid our leaders will not be able to control this because people have had enough,” said Fanner.
She said ratepayers want to be heard and they want the City’s management to recognise that residents of Msunduzi expect service delivery for the rates they pay.
Speaking to The Witness from the sidelines of the picket, Anne McEwen, who moved to the Hayfields area in 1991, said the suburb used to be a beautiful area but has changed for the worse in the past 15 years.
“Nothing is managed correctly. Everything is going downhill and we are bearing the brunt as ratepayers, which is absolutely unacceptable.
“We can’t live here anymore. I have only three-quarters of one of my lungs yet I’m subjected to this, it’s totally unacceptable. Last night I was suffering from sore eyes and a sore throat because of the smoke,” said McEwen.
Lucky Makhobe from the Kwik Spar in Hayfields told The Witness that they were losing customers because of the smoke from the dump fire.
“We’re not getting as many customers as we usually get. The staff and customers are all coughing, which is not good because now we don’t know if it’s Covid-19 or the smoke. Something really needs to be done by our municipality, we cannot be subjected to this every time there is a dump fire.”
Trevor Clowes, the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg & District Council for the Care of the Aged (Padca), said he had not received any complaints coming in from any residence at the moment.
He did, however, say that when he visited one of their units on Wednesday, Woodgrove Retirement Village, it was very difficult to breathe due to the smoke.
“It is actually very disgusting that that amount to toxic fumes can be floating across the town. For our senior residents to be subjected to pollution of that level is really unacceptable,” he said.
Meanwhile, Shane Opperman, his wife and his two daughters — aged eight and 20 years old — fled into the Midlands on Wednesday to escape the smoke from the dump.
Opperman said he and his wife, Velda, were woken up by their eight-year-old daughter, who suffers from a respiratory illness, at 6.30 am complaining about how she couldn’t breathe because of the smoke that was inside the house.
He said the smoke from the dump, which is about a kilometre away from their home on Adams Road in Hayfields, had come in through air ventilators and the gaps between the closed windows.
“It was so bad that when we woke up I had such a bad headache. My wife and I both had heavy chests, our throats were sore, you could just taste the smoke in your mouth and could even see traces of it when blowing your nose.”
Opperman said it was so bad that he decided to load his whole family in the car and they drove off to the Midlands Meander to get away from the smoke clouds. “We couldn’t breathe in our own home. We had to close off our own house and leave.
“Our frustration is that we as ratepayers must continue to pay our rates every month. That dump site reached its capacity many years ago, but the municipality keeps on using it and these problems keep on happening. Another problem we have is how can we make the municipality understand that this is a violation to our basic human right to air quality?”
He said they returned to their home on Wednesday afternoon and it smelt like their house was on fire. He said he was still sceptical about spending the night there in case the smoke starts up again and was in the process of organising another safer place for them to sleep.