South African Human Rights Commission vs uMsunduzi Municipality - Landfill case to be heard in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday 28 May 2021

New England landfill fire

Toxic smoke from the fire in July 2020 at the New England Landfill Site in Pietermaritzburg

28 May 2021 - The case against the uMsunduzi Municipality in Pietermaritzburg is to be heard in the High Court. The Pietermaritzburg landfill site has been in the media for all the wrong reasons dating back to a decade ago. In July 2020 residents experienced the worst incident when the site was engulfed in fire for seven days. Some families had to evacuate their homes due to the smoke emanating from the landfill fire and schools nearby had to shut down. Following its investigation on this matter, the South African Human Rights Commission decided to file an urgent application at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in November last year. The SAHRC expressed its concerns on the environmental and health impacts due to the poor management of the site. The commission accused the municipality of violating the Constitution by mismanaging the site, which is seen as a human and environmental disaster.

The last fire incident led to a huge outcry in Pietermaritzburg. This happened during the peak of the COVID 19 pandemic in South Africa. People with respiratory challenges were the most affected by the toxic smoke from the landfill. Although the council tried to put out the fire the efforts were in vain and the fire lasted for a full week. uMsunduzi Municipality claimed to be innocent when it comes to poor management of the site despite protests that have been staged by people of Pietermaritzburg as well as schools around Pietermaritzburg complaining about the landfill fires.

In February 2021, the municipality filed a responding affidavit, which stated that the SAHRC investigation on the matter did not take into consideration the improvements on the site management post the last fire incident. 
The solution to waste dumping at landfills was discouraged by environmental justice group groundwork and instead the promotion of zero waste through recycling was put forward as a preferred and effective method of dealing with waste. GroundWork had a number of meetings with the council together with waste pickers who derive their livelihoods from recycling waste.


Further background information:


SAHRC vs uMsunduzi Municipality
28 May 2021
Pietermaritzburg High Court
301 Church Street, Pietermaritzburg CBD, 3200


Musa Chamane
+27 82 380 2237

Tsepang Molefe
+27 74 405 1257