Toxic Waste Company Finally in Court – Is there Political Interference?

9th December 2009 - On Thursday, the 10th of November, Thermopower finally faces a court of law because of its activities in Olifantsfotein, where it incinerates local and imported toxic waste as per permission granted from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in July 2004.  The case is finally in court after more than two years since the local community first laid a compliant with the Green Scorpions about the impact the company’s operations are having on the local residents in Clayville, Olifantsfotein and Thembisa.

The court that will hear the case is Court C, Kempton Park.

The community is of the opinion that the operations at Thermopower impact negatively on their health and they suffer from chronic coughs, dry throats, asthma and headaches. [1]

Ironically on the same day the company faces the democratic legal system, the Gauteng Premier’s office has called a public meeting as part of a ‘feedback’ to the local community, at 18:30 hrs at the local Clayville, Extension 29, Sports Ground.  From the discussions community people have had with the Premier’s office, it seems that the Premier’s report is going to say that ‘all is well at the plant]’ and that the Premier’s Office are trying to ‘politically manage’ community concerns. 

The Premier’s action comes after the community planned to march on Thermopower on the 30th of November and at the 11th hour the premier’s office called a meeting and appealed to the community to call off the march and to allow the premier’s office to conduct its own investigation into the communities complaints as a separate matter to the pending legal action and promised to report back to the community on the 13th of December. The community reluctantly agreed but now the report back date has been moved forward and coincides with the court case and the community feels that this might be a ploy to blur the community concerns with the Green Scorpions legal action.

Kgomotso Modiselle, a local resident in Olifantsfotein is concerned about the approach of the Premier’s office and indicates that ‘it feels as if there is political interference in a democratically defined legal process as a senior political entity delivers a public report on the day the company finally faces the judiciary.’

groundWork [1] who has been monitoring the situation with the local community is concerned that at the same time as Thermopower faces this legal challenge, government is seeking to give them permission to import thousands of tons of mercurial waste from KwaZulu Natal. The Thor waste, which was imported from Europe, Asia and the United States in the late 80’s and early 90’s, has resulted in the deaths of workers and serious pollution to the Durban drinking water system.  Furthermore Thermopower has applied for permission to treat medical waste on their site.  With the catastrophic situation around the mismanagement of medical waste in South Africa at present allowing Thermopower, who are not complying with their operating permits, to treat medical waste would be criminal.    ‘In light of the present legal challenge Thermopower faces, groundWork believes that government should withdraw the right to tender for and or develop new proposals from Thermopower.  We believe the company should be shut down and we hope for a speedy legal process’, says Musa Chamane, groundWork’s Waste Campaign Manager.

Thermopower treats waste from various multi-national companies such as Sasol, Eskom, Monsanto, BASF, AngloGold Ashanti and Afrox Gas.  It also imports waste from African countries.

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Footnotes:

[1] See http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-07-25-waste-company-at-centre-of-toxic-storm for more information.

[2] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa, on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Air Pollution, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South Africa member of Friends of the Earth International and is affiliated to the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network see www.ipen.org and the Global Anti Incineration Alliance (www.no-burn.org)