Civil Society voice their concerns at National Workshop on Landfills

Previously, civil society had not been given a platform to voice their concerns regarding the health and environmental impacts that waste landfill sites has had on their quality of life due to the apartheid legacy of having landfill sites placed in their residential neighbourhoods, and only recently has civil society taken a strong position against such environmental unjust practices and have sort ways to voice their concerns in a legitimate manner, so as to stop this practice of environmental racism

It was recently that groundWork held its National Civil Society Organisation Strategy Workshop on landfills. This workshop was conducted over three days between the 17 – 19th February. The gathering of civil society organisations was to formulate a national strategy surrounding the injustices of poor landfill site practices.

The reason for the workshop was due perhaps to the fact that it has long been recognised that poorly managed, and often illegal, landfill sites pose an urgent environmental justice problem in South Africa. There are abundant occurrences of how poor black people have had to live with the apartheid legacy of having landfill sites in their residential neighbourhoods. Ten years after the democratic state, we are still faced with this apartheid bequest. GroundWork has recognised this problem to be one of the key environmental justice evils facing civil society and therefore had sought to work nationally with communities to ensure that community collective voices were heard. These ‘collective voices’ challenging industries and authorities on landfill site issues were brought together to share their struggles in order that more supportive mechanisms could be developed. It was also hoped that through this gathering communities affected by waste landfills would be better able to defend and promote their environmental interest, at a local, national and international level.

I was glad to see a large number of local civil society participants present at the meeting and had travelled from areas such as Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Pietermaritzburg so as to provide input at the workshop. During the course of the workshop, it was not surprising to hear that community testimonies from landfills sites such as Hilton, Aloes, Diepsloot, Everton West, Bisarsar, Umlazi and Mondi landfills to name a few, provided evidence of various environmental justice occurring nationally. Some of the repeated concerns expressed included conflicts with local communities and participation, site location and management, dust, odour, noise, ‘scavenging’, site closure, leachate seepage and security.

During the meeting I was delighted to see how all civil society participants seemed to get along so harmoniously since it seemed that they had come together with a common vision and had shared similar experiences related to the struggles of community injustices in their areas, and due to the fact that private companies had continually violated the law and government had repeated failed to act on those legal violations and other injustices within their neighbourhoods.

groundWork was glad to have the honourable Deputy Minister, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Ms Rejoice Mabudfasi open the workshop. I was encouraged to hear from the minister during her speech that the practices of environmental racism is what a democratic government must reverse and that government will be strengthening its partnership with people on the ground.

Overall, my feelings about groundWork’s CSO workshop were awe-inspiring. The gathering resolved to work together as an Alliance to challenge poor landfill site practices and agreed to work on a strategy that would focus on legal challenges, advocacy and lobbying, media, capacity building, and to inform government policy in the proposed Waste Bill which will be released for comment shortly.

Overall, I felt that the workshop was of tremendous success. It is hoped that the workshop will provide the government with an informed and concerned opinion reflecting the voice of civil society, and that government and civil society can work together so as to reverse the environmental injustices of past practices. However, it must be realised that landfills are not the solutions to our current waste management crisis and that waste management must not merely begin and end with landfill sites.

It is time that government walks the talk and starts applying the principles employed in the National Waste Management Strategy (NWMS) which calls for reduction in the generation and environmental impact of all forms of waste and to ensure that the health of the people and the quality of the environmental resources are no longer affected by uncontrolled and uncoordinated waste management. We urge the government to support and swiftly apply the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which requires producers of products to be responsible for the environmental impacts. We need to prevent, reduce, reuse and recycle waste if any sustain solution to waste management is to be achieved.

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