Msunduzi Municipality says SAHRC had no grounds for bringing landfill case
Durban - The Msunduzi Municipality has hit back at the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for bringing a “flawed” high court case against it over the state of the city’s New England landfill site.
The municipality is opposing the matter and municipal manager Madoda Khathide filed an affidavit when the application came before the Pietermaritzburg High Court this week.
The SAHRC brought an application late last year against the municipality as it claimed that the city had disregarded national and international environmental laws in its management of the landfill site, violating constitutional rights and negatively impacting citizens’ health.
Nearby residents have complained about the landfill site for several years and fires early last year led to some of them having to evacuate their homes due to the toxic smoke.
The Mercury previously reported that the SAHRC was seeking a declaratory order to confirm that the municipality had broken environmental laws, including the National Environmental Management Act, the Water Act and the Waste Act, and had ignored repeated warning letters and compliance notices over the past 20 years.
It was also seeking 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 site, which includes concerns about groundwater contamination, air pollution and fires.
In his affidavit, Khathide said the application should be dismissed due to a lack of urgency as the SAHRC brought the application last November, some two months after it had obtained its information, and did not offer an explanation for the delay. He said the commission had also failed to investigate the current status of the landfill site and said the interventions undertaken superseded their complaints.
Khathide added that while the municipality conceded that there “was a substantial deterioration of the landfill site and that there has been historical non-compliance with its operation”, since he had been appointed in April 2020, there had been improvement at the landfill site.
He said the SAHRC did not have the right to assume the statutory functions of the head of the KZN Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (Edtea) or the Edtea MEC, who are the second and third respondents in the case.
He said the department, in terms of the law, had the ability to regulate compliance and address non-compliance.
“It is not permissible for the court to be substituted in place of the second and third respondents to fulfil obligations and functions which it is already doing.”
Khathide said following an unsuccessful internal dispute process, the department issued a pre-compliance notice and a non-compliance notice and instituted criminal charges regarding the non-compliance against the municipality. Khathide said after the criminal case was opened there had been “substantial redress” at the landfill site and meaningful engagement with the department.
He said the municipality had agreed to a course of action to address the long list of issues listed in the revised compliance notice and a criminal investigation was under way.
Outlining some of the action taken at the landfill site, Khathide said that security had been improved and a recycling area had been identified.
The deadline for the recycling area to receive a concrete floor and fencing is May 30.
Khathide said regarding waste pickers – who had proved to be a problem at the site with some living on the property in shacks – the municipality had made an effort to find a middle ground that promoted their safety and landfill integrity until the social issue was resolved by legislation.
The SAHRC has been given time to file its answering affidavit and the matter has been adjourned indefinitely.