Victory for Pietermaritzburg Residents: High Court orders uMsunduzi Municipality to come up with detailed and comprehensive plan on dumpsite.

The New England Landfill site in Pietermaritzburg. In a case brought before the court by South African Human Rights Commission against the uMsunduzi Municipality, the High Court in Pietermaritzburg has found the municipality to be in violation of the Constitution and environmental legislation, due to its poor management of the landfill site. image: Tony Carnie

17 June 2021 - The High Court in Pietermaritzburg has delivered judgement in the South African Human Rights Commission case against the uMsunduzi Municipality arising out of the Municipality’s failure to properly manage the New England Road Landfill site. In a 41-page judgement delivered today, Judge Seegobin found the Municipality to be in breach of a number of laws that govern waste and the environment, including the breach of the Variation Waste Management License and also of Section 24 of the South African Constitution. The court ordered the municipality to file a detailed and comprehensive action plan with the court within 30 days.

In 2020 the New England Road landfill made headlines in the news for all the wrong reasons, including fires that lasted a week during level 4 lockdown. groundWork, Schools, communities and affected residents had engaged the municipality and tried to compel them to manage the site in an environmentally safe manner. The Department of Environmental Affairs also ordered the city to develop a working plan for the dumpsite and to follow some directives and recommendations from the department, but the uMsunduzi municipality has never given effect to those directives, which resulted in the further deterioration of the site.

For more than a decade groundWork has been engaging the Municipality on how they can go about making sure that the site is managed properly, but all those efforts have fallen on deaf ears. Residents of Sobantu, Hayfields, Scottsville and other surrounding areas have been calling for the relocation of the site due to the failure to deal with operational challenges and the impacts it has on the health of people and the environment.

“In the last decade there have been more than five deaths at the landfill as a result of poor operations. Members of the South African Waste Pickers Association members based at the Pietermaritzburg landfill site had a plan to work with the city, but that never took off, the access control which was agreed between the two parties was never implemented by the city and we warned them that the landfill would be swamped by thousands of unemployed people if they did not take control on the access issue. As a result, some waste pickers/recycling workers have died whilst others have been left paralysed. All this undermines human rights - how can we allow the municipality to kill people through incompetence. This is a victory for the community of Pietermaritzburg, hopefully the days of the stench and burning landfill has come to an end. Waste pickers are allowed to salvage materials or recyclables so that they can earn a livelihood; the Waste Act 2008 does allow this. The Waste Pickers Guideline document that aimed at guiding municipalities in integrating waste pickers should not be ignored. This case is a precedent-setting case with implications for a number of poorly managed landfills in the country”, says Musa Chamane, Waste Campaign Manager at groundWork.


Resources (background information):

Musa Chamane: Waste Campaign Manager, groundWork
+27 82 380 2237;
Tsepang Molefe: Media and Communications, groundWork
+27 74 405 1257;