Words by Liziwe McDaid, Coordinator of the Southern Africa Advisory Board, and Allison Davis, Deputy Director of Programs
Noxious fumes, contaminated water, sick children.
For residents of the KwaZulu Natal Province of Durban, South Africa, the above are a regular part of daily life. Liquid that seeps through an industrial landfill near their homes produces toxic fumes that contaminate their air. Recently, people in the area have grown even more outraged to learn that the local government gave the waste management company, Enviroserv, permission to use the municipal sewage system to dump the toxic liquid—or leachate—directly into the sea, sickening people and impacting marine ecosystems all along the coast.
We recently had the opportunity to visit Durban and see the contamination firsthand. We went to an overlook and watched a fisherman casting in the area where sewage drains into the sea. We also attended a meeting in a local church where frustrated community members came together under the banner of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), an alliance of sixteen local organizations, to challenge the dumping of toxic waste and to hold the government accountable.
Since 2004, Global Greengrants has supported SDCEA in their efforts to expose toxic spills, dangerous air pollutants, and unfair land grabs throughout the industrial corridor. With funding from Global Greengrants, the group has worked to increase awareness of the issues at hand within local communities and among the poorer populations of South Durban, often through local meetings and campaigns such as this one.
During the meeting, KwaZulu Natal community members met to hear whether Enviroserv would respond to demands and stop the leachate dumping immediately. They invited government officials—almost all who failed to attend—and described the illnesses local children and families suffer because of the toxins in their air and water.
One local man, his voice breaking with emotion, spoke of his frustration that the company continues to do harm while the government fails to intervene. Another person said her 11-month-old baby vomits whenever the noxious fumes blow into her home. Fishermen certainly do not want to have dangerous toxins in their catch.
Some good news was announced at the meeting. An official from the Coastal and Marine Protection Service announced that a few days earlier the local officials had met, and, fearing more public outcry, decided to halt the leachate dumping immediately.
But the story doesn’t end there.
While the announcement that dumping will end is encouraging, KwaZulu Natal residents are rightly suspicious of whether the decision will be upheld. Community members say they will continue to check along the route of the toxic waste transport to make sure leachate trucks have actually stopped dumping.
The community is resolved to increase pressure on the government, and is concerned that even if toxic waste dumping is stopped in one location, the problem will shift to another. Local people demand to be part of decision-making on what will happen to the toxic leachate, and more broadly, to work with the government to promote the adoption of more sustainable and healthy solutions for all.
Moving forward, Global Greengrants plans to continue to support SDCEA’s efforts to curb the dumping of toxic materials and generate local action to protect the environment, and the health and rights of the local people.