Smoke gets in your eyes

Smoke from a fire at the city dump could be seen from kilometres away.
Smoke from a fire at the city dump could be seen from kilometres away.

It was Murphy’s Law.

The very day we printed a story in The Witness this week in which we quoted a consultancy firm that was appointed to sort out the Msunduzi dump saying that was the end of fires there, we woke up to a city shrouded in foul-smelling smoke.

Looking at the article on our system the night before, I had to say I had misgivings when reading the opinions of Surg Sut, the company involved.

My left eyebrow shot up involuntarily and the words “Are you really sure about that …,” floated across my mind. I think I even said them out loud to the wooden gecko ornament that hangs by its tail on a hook above my desk

But, they’d said it and we reported that they had. And oh, when I saw the first social-media messages coming through at sparrows’ on Tuesday morning, announcing in clipped tones that there was yet another inferno at the dump, I could almost taste the sweet irony of that headline on page three of the newspaper I had in front of me as I sipped my coffee.

Looking out the window at home, I saw there was a haze and as I got to work later, opening mails, checking the page scheme for the next day and taking part in the virtual morning news conference, I watched Worlds View slowly disappear behind a wall of dirty white smog.

Even though I live on the other side of town to where the fire raged, the hum of the dump smoke began to waft in and I had to close the windows. But as the smog thickened, the stench crept in through gaps under doors and through the air vents. At one point I considered sticking paper over the vents, and even wished I had some of those old fashioned sausage-dog door stops.

As we all choked and coughed — not because of Covid-19 — the strange stories started coming in. Fire alarms at companies in the city were going off spontaneously as the smoke density reached levels they could detect. People were having to evacuate their homes as the toxicity inside their bedrooms was so bad, they couldn’t breathe.

The Witness and a community newspaper came out on the same day with the same headline: “We can’t breathe.”

And as if the pandemic isn’t dystopian enough, scenes from videos and photos of our city centre and neighbourhoods started flooding onto social media. With daylight all but blocked out, the only light coming through tinged with red and the landscape choked with smoke, the pics looked like martian vignettes, strange and otherworldly.

Then, as if enough teaching time hasn’t been lost this year, schools started closing because of the toxic fug. How can you learn with foul-smelling air pervading the mask you already have to wear to stop breathing in viruses? No, man! It’s not on.

Anyone see the irony here? Government won’t let people smoke, but allows ait pollution like this to keep happening. I bet all Maritzburgers “smoked” a good few packs worth in air pollution over the course of this week.

And stranger than fiction, Msunduzi then released a statement which cited darker elements and said a police case has been opened in connection with the fire, implying sabotage and intrigue. And we carried an article in which we quoted fire-fighters saying they had been prevented by management from fighting the fire the way they thought was best, using sand to smother it.

Then, as things became weirder, there were those people online saying the fire was started to make sure everyone stays home because of Covid-19, and others who said the smoke was carrying the Covid-19 virus which would infect us all. Seriously? Those who start these stories are real idiots. Sorry, I just can’t be nice at this point.

But the upshot is that we sing the same song year in and year out. The City struggles with this same problem every year, and every year plans are made and promises spouted, none of which are ever kept. Can someone at City Hall/legislature/parliament take control and do what needs to be done to make it a reality that our City does not poison it’s ratepayers a few times each year?

If there’s no one who can, and it’s clear there isn’t in the present dispensation, can we appoint someone who has the experience and know-how? We need a proper waste-management expert whose sole job it is, is to manage our waste expertly.

Ross Strachan WhatsApped me this week, saying he believes the situation is due to “years and years of mismanagement and neglect”. He said the machines [compactors] at the site are not serviced and are not operating.

Strachan also lays the blame at the door of provincial and national government who have failed to intervene.

The compromised air we breathed in and out this week was a result of Msunduzi being allowed to get away with this.

It’s not good enough for spheres of government to wag their finger at them, then allow them to give us the middle finger in terms of services we are paying for through our rates. There has to be a better solution. Clearly the wrong people are in charge. The politicians and political deployees have failed us again. Their time of trying to manage the system has failed. Get the fixers in. And let the city have clean air.

If they think we don’t deserve uninterrupted power and water supplies, working streetlights, smooth roads and clean neighbourhoods, surely we must still deserve clean air to breathe. Surely.



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