The billion-rand waste management company is being criminally charged with contravening the National Air Quality Act, although the court heard that other charges would likely be added and there was the possibility of additions to the accused list.
Appearing in his capacity as company CEO, Dean Thompson entered the court looking uncomfortable as residents from areas near the landfill, who had gathered at court since early morning started heckling him from the gallery.
He turned away as some visibly angry community members – dressed in T-Shirts emblazoned with ‘EnviroServ must fall’ – started jeering, “come and stay at my house. Bring your kids”, and shouting that the company was poisoning them.
EnviroServ has garnered the wrath of communities near the landfill, which have accused the waste disposal giant of releasing "toxic fumes" from the site that are making them sick.
Although the company has admitted that it is a contributor to the malodour in the area, it says other industries also need to be investigated. It has denied any culpability for the ill health of residents. Magistrate Blessing Msane postponed the case to 17 August for finalisation of charges, with both parties in agreement.
But there was some consternation about the charge sheet and the docket.
Acting for EnviroServ, Jeffrey Hewitt SC said that the charge sheet in his possession was marked final, “and it is obviously not”. He was also unhappy with the docket being handed to him on a disc, saying the state was to provide a hard copy.
Senior State advocate, Yuri Gangai, said the charge sheet was not final as new charges could possibly be added and the number of accused might also increase due to new information recently being made available. Gangai said all of the new information would be added to the docket and made available to the defence.
“I suspect that when we appear again on 17 August we will again be fighting to see if the state is prepared,” said Hewitt.
Thompson left the courtroom quickly as soon as the matter was adjourned. Instead, the responded to the proceedings via press release hours after his appearance, saying: “This morning’s postponement of the criminal matter between EnviroServ and the State by the Durban Magistrates Court comes as a surprise to us.
“When we said that proceedings against EnviroServ had been launched prematurely and before we could finalise our expert reports, we were told the State had enough evidence to secure a conviction. It has emerged this morning that they not only need to review the charge sheet but also gather further evidence,” he said.
In an earlier press release, Thompson said the company had filed an appeal against the DEA’s notice to suspend its waste management licence.
“We believe the suspension notice was premature and in breach of an agreement concluded with the DEA that final reports from our experts would be presented on April 10, 2017 for further consideration,” he said.