“Our blood will be on your hands.”
That is the sentiment echoed by Sobantu residents who on Friday accused Msunduzi of gassing them through the fires at the dump.
On Friday dozens of people did not go to work because the heavy smoke made it difficult for them to either walk to the nearest taxi rank or drive as even street lights were of no help.
“We are pleading with the provincial and national government to intervene before we are all dead from the pollutants that we are inhaling with the smoke from the fire. Our lungs have been subjected to this over and over again and now we also have to deal with Covid-19,” said Tana Mbokazi.
Chest pains, headaches, nosebleeds, body aches, insomnia, trouble breathing, sore throats and itchy eyes were some of the health conditions they blamed on the dump fire.
Mbokazi said they want the Department of Health to do an investigation on how many people had health complications emanating from the dump fires.
A handful of Sobantu residents also stormed what was meant to be an oversight visit by the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature’s portfolio committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental affairs (EDTEA) at the landfill site.
They disrupted the briefing and a screaming match ensued as they demanded that the politicians listened to their grievances.
They said the community of Ward 35 had been excluded from decisions made about the landfill site, yet they were the ones who suffered the consequences of its poor management.
“I’m asthmatic and the X-rays show that my chest has damage caused by the smoke. I’m not the only one, there are a lot of people in Sobantu who have chest problems, even those who aren’t asthmatic,” said Nokwanda Dubazane.
She said when she was growing up in the 1980s those managing the landfill separated the hazardous waste from garden and domestic refuse to prevent contamination, but Msunduzi mixed the waste streams, which she believed led to the chemical imbalance and fires. “Then the municipality want to blame the waste-pickers for the fires, why would they do that?”
Mathokwane Hlabisa said her two children had been in and out of hospital whenever there was a dump fire, which led to her medical aid funds running out quickly and she ended up having to pay in cash.
“We are sick and tired of Msunduzi and its corruption. They must get qualified people to manage this municipality and stop gambling with our lives. It’s obvious that there are people benefiting from this mess so they want it to continue.”
When portfolio chair Sthembiso Mshengu tried to speak, Hlabisa screamed back at him saying “do you know the pain I’m going through right now? My child is sick. Should my child die, you will be held accountable”.
“One day you will answer for our deaths,” screamed Dubazane next to her.
The committee suspended the oversight visit and it was agreed that a meeting would be held with the representatives from the Sobantu community today. Mshengu told Weekend Witness that they would reschedule the visit after engagements with the affected communities as those would form part of their recommendations on what should be done to stabilise the situation at the dump so that there were no more fires.
Asked if whether this was not another political talk shop as witnessed many other times, Mshengu said: “We are deeply concerned about what’s happening because of the health impact of this fire and we want a lasting solution to this problem.”
He said they also want an update on what has happened since Msunduzi was issued with a 2015 non-compliance notice.
“If nothing has happened we would then want to make sure that they are consequences for those departmental officials,” said Mshengu.