Sore throats, nosebleeds amid dump fire

Pietermaritzburg was covered with toxic smoke and people working in the CBD said they had trouble breathing. PHOTO: Moeketsi Mamane
Pietermaritzburg was covered with toxic smoke and people working in the CBD said they had trouble breathing. PHOTO: Moeketsi Mamane

Schools had to close early while those living around the dump were left with sore throats and bleeding noses due to the smoke on Tuesday.

Sobantu resident Nokukhanya Sibisi, whose home overlooks the landfill site, had to take her three children to their grandmother’s place in Imbali because of the smoke. “I woke up around 2 am because the smoke was suffocating me and when I saw the bright light through the curtains I just knew the dump was on fire again,” she said.

She woke her children up and called a cab to drive them to Imbali. “My son is asthmatic and the little one has flu so I thought it’s best that they are not here because I don’t how long that fire is going to burn for. Remember the other time it was like a week.”

Sibisi said the residents were tired of begging Msunduzi to sort out the problems at the dump, which she believed were deliberate. She said she has lived in Sobantu since 2006 and it was only over the past few years that they started having regular fires.

Across the river in Lincoln Meade the situation was just as bad as motorists had to drive with their lights on because of the smoke.

Gaynor Stander, who moved into the area seven years ago, said she slept with her windows open only to wake up with her home full of smoke. Her nose bled and her sinuses also flared up from having to breathe it in for hours.

“It’s toxic smoke ... It’s really terrible what we have to go through.”

Councillors in the neighbouring wards said they were inundated with complaints from residents. There were also concerns about how the fire impacted on those with Covid-19.

“People who are recovering from Covid-19 are already having respiratory problems and their lungs are struggling, and now they have to breathe in this toxic smoke,” said Ward 33 councillor Suraya Reddy.

Sandy Lyne of Ward 37 said she had seen some improvement with the management of the dump since Surg Sut took over and the arrival of the senior waste manager, Wilson Mhlongo, a few months ago, but she did not know where things went wrong.

“My concern is the health of the people because I’m told that the smoke is covering most of Maritzburg. I’m also aware of the additional dangers with people who are ill with coronavirus.”

Lyne was also aware of allegations of slackness in security measures since Magma left, but said the community services portfolio committee has not recently had a meeting where she could have raised the issue. She also called for the resuscitation of the landfill monitoring committee so that the community could play an oversight role in the management of the site.

Meanwhile local schools such as Epworth, St Charles College, St John’s Diocesan School for Girls and Hayfields Primary were amongst those that had to close early because of the smoke, and parents had to be urgently alerted to fetch their children.

Vicky Crookes, Epworth School head of marketing, said: “Boarders who could not be collected are being accommodated in the boarding establishment and all the necessary precautions around air quality and Covid-19 are being taken. The school will remain closed on Wednesday. Lessons will continue online [on Wednesday] afternoon and [Thursday].”

She said the school management would monitor the situation closely and should it be deemed necessary to extend the closure, it would do so.

Groundwork’s Musa Chamana said the lack of political will by council to ensure that the landfill site was properly managed was the reason for the ongoing problems. “... If the waste was covered and compacted every day it wouldn’t catch fire, but every other day we are getting reports about the machinery being broken because it’s not being maintained.”

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