SAHRC vs uMsunduzi: Municipality in High Court for failing to clean up
15 February 2021 - The case filed by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) against the uMsunduzi municipality over its management of the New England Road Landfill site in Pietermaritzburg is being heard in the high court today.
The case was filed in the high court by the SAHRC after its investigation on the matter, and consultations with different stakeholders including, groundWork, Ratepayers Association, Save PMB, affected communities and residents. Post its investigations the SAHRC red-flagged the state of the site and its impact on the environment and on public health.
The landfill is known for its fires that flame for days, and engulf the city with smoke, forcing schools to shut down and some residents to evacuate their homes due to the toxic smoke. In April last year the fires went on for more than three days. The SAHRC subsequently received a number of complaints from Pietermaritzburg residents, and a protest was held near the site with a petition against the dump which was also handed over to the commission.
In its court papers the SAHRC is seeking two things:
- A declaratory order, to confirm that the municipality has broken a raft of environmental laws, including the National Environmental Management Act, the Water Act and the Waste Act, and ignored repeated warning letters and compliance notices over the past 20 years.
- A structural interdict, to force the municipality to provide an action plan, that must be overseen by the court and other stakeholders, such as local communities, to remedy the allegedly hazardous state of the dump, which includes concerns about ground water contamination, air pollution and fires.
The landfill site is already running way beyond its prescribed lifespan - it was declared near its end more than a decade ago. The Commission is accusing the municipality of violating the Constitution by mismanaging the site, which is in a bad state and has proved to be a human and environmental disaster.
The case is of huge importance to South Africans because it could set a precedent for so many of the poorly managed landfill sites that exist in our country. There are more than 1 000 licensed waste disposal sites across South Africa, the majority of which are poorly managed.
“We hope that through this legal process, the municipality will take full responsibility and put measures into place that will ensure the dump site is effectively managed. And, when a new site starts operating, ideally the current site needs to be converted to a waste transfer station receiving only recyclable waste materials, enabling an aggressive recycling, and separation at source, of the waste system from residents and business that will ultimately lead to zero waste going to landfills. This is a progressive modern way of dealing with waste,” said groundWork’s Waste Campaigner Musa Chamane.
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