Friday 09 November 2012

Olifantsfontein community and surrounds
groundWork, Friends of the Earth South Africa

Toxic Waste: Still a reality in a democratic South Africa

The fight for Environmental Justice continues against Thermopower in Olifantsfontein

09 November 2012 – The impact of unlawful toxic waste management is a harsh and personal reality for residents of Olifantsfontein and workers at Thermopower Process Technology 18 years after democracy, and over 20 years after the Thor Chemicals toxic waste import scandal [1]. On Tuesday 13 November, Thermopower is set to have their case heard in the Kempton Park Magistrate's Court, Gauteng, and the people of Olifantsfontein and surrounding communities will be there to finally witness the delivery of justice.

Thermopower, a toxic waste disposal and incineration company whose operations have for many years been linked to worker and community health and safety issues, have previously evaded justice five times by using their political connections with ANC officials to both manipulate the community and to not have their day in court. In 2009, Thermopower was charged by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Department of Environmental Affair's (DEA) environmental management inspectorate, the Green Scorpions for numerous contraventions [2].

Thermopower is the final destination for toxic waste from companies such as Eskom, Sasol, Afrox Gas and BASF to name a few, and waste from the South African Development Community (SADC).  Interestingly, Thermopower's website no longer functions so information on their customers and partners are difficult to come by. What is known, however, is that while the NPA and the DEA are taking them to court, the KwaZulu Natal government ironically has agreed to treat part of the historical mercurial toxic waste from Thor Chemicals in Cato Ridge outside Durban to Thermopower for disposal.  Thus adding insult to injury.

Thermopower has also been linked to allegedly corrupt tenders and political affiliations involving senior members in government and the ANC, both recently and earlier in South Africa's democratic history [3].

This court case has been based upon community people alerting the authorities about the ongoing impacts of the company on the Olifantsfontein community, and the serious injuries and fatalities that workers have been victim of as employees of Thermopower.  Community people here have complained of odours so strong they do not venture outside or open their windows, and health impacts such as severe headaches, and eye and skin infections. Horrific accidents have occurred to workers on site, such as eyes being burnt out, genitalia and other bodily areas being mutilated from chemical leakages and explosions, and in some cases fatalities. The people directly affected by Thermopower have been raising their concerns about improper practices at the Thermopower facility for many years which have resulted in the legal action.

On the day of the court case, community members will gather both outside and inside the Kempton Park Magistrate's Court to call on the magistrate to hear the case and to not once again postpone it. People from Olifantsfontein and surrounding areas together with support and solidarity from groundWork [4], Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance [5], South African Waste Pickers Association [6], and communities working on air quality issues in the Highveld region and anti-incineration in Lichtenburg in the North West, plan to focus our actions on highlighting the continual nexus between corporate power, government collusion and injustices by focusing on the on-going environmental and social injustices saga in Olifantsfontein. 

We are calling for the South African government:

View our petition to the South African government here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/558/030/620/solidarity-with-communities-affected-by-waste-disposal-company-thermopower/

Letters will be sent to those companies known to dispose of toxic waste using Thermopower requesting information on certificates of safe waste disposal and environmental audits which are necessary legal requirements.

We invite media to the picket on this day at 08h30, where we hope to see environmental justice becoming a reality rather than remaining a mirage for communities and workers in South Africa.

Follow the action here: www.facebook.com/groundWorkSA and on Twitter @groundWorkSA.

Read worker and community profiles

 FOOTNOTES

[1] For more information on the Thor Chemicals toxic waste import scandal, read The Mercury, "Decades of waste not cleared up" (06 February 2012) http://www.iol.co.za/mercury/decades-of-toxic-waste-not-cleared-up-1.1227577

[2] Thermopower Process Technology has been charged by the NPA and DEA for the following contraventions: (1) untreated and treated waste remaining on the site for a period of longer than the permitted (three months); (2) failure to dispose of some of the residue as legally required; (3) burying residue in one of the buildings on site; (4) disposing of residue in storm water drains; (5) storing waste in leaking containers not properly labelled and sealed; (6) treating healthcare risk waste and general waste together; (7) not submitting charge papers to the authorities; (8) not ensuring either that all residue generated in the treatment process was disposed of at a permitted hazardous waste landfill site on a regular basis or reclassified for delisting and disposal at a permissible disposable landfill site; (9) and not taking steps to ensure all floors were cleaned and disinfected.

For more information, read The Mail and Guardian, "Waste company at centre of toxic storm" (25 July 2009) http://mg.co.za/article/2009-07-25-waste-company-at-centre-of-toxic-storm and City Press, "Thermopower case postponed again" (30 May 2011) http://www.citypress.co.za/SouthAfrica/News/Thermopower-case-postponed-again-20110530

[3] Thermopower's CEO Christos Eleftheriades more recent political affiliations have been with former ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, who became empowerment partners in the Thumisano Waste Management Company. Eleftheriades's company allegedly paid a monthly dividend of R136 000 into his partner's company. Another of Eleftheriades's Isibonelo Waste Solutions, won a R120 million contract over three years for the removal and treatment of medical waste in Mpumalanga, despite being taken to court. Around this time, Tshumisano had also been given a R200 million contract to remove and manage medical waste on behalf of the provincial health department in Limpopo.

For more information on old and new affiliations, read Mail and Guardian, "Waste company at centre of toxic storm" (25 July 2009) http://mg.co.za/article/2009-07-25-waste-company-at-centre-of-toxic-storm; City Press, "Malema linked to dirty firm" (18 July 2010) http://www.citypress.co.za/SouthAfrica/Malema-linked-to-dirty-firm-20100718; and The Sowetan, "Malema associate rakes it in despite lawsuit" (28 October 2011) http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2011/10/28/malema-associate-rakes-it-in-despite-lawsuit

[4] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working with community people from around South Africa and increasingly in Southern Africa on environmental justice and human rights issues focusing on Air Quality, Climate Justice and Energy, Waste and Environmental Health. groundWork is the South African member of Friends of the Earth International www.groundwork.org.za

[5] Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) is made up of 13 affiliate organizations from areas throughout the Vaal Triangle. They focus predominantly on issues of air and water quality in this region http://vaalenvironmentalnews.blogspot.com/

[6] The South African Waste Pickers association is a movement of people working on landfill sites and in streets collecting waste and earning an income from selling waste material for recycling.

CONTACTS

Kgomotso Modiselle, community leader in Olifantsfontein at 084 807 7121

Megan Lewis, Media and Information Campaign Manager at groundWork at 033 342 5662 / 083 450 5541 or megan@groundwork.org.za
(Contact Megan Lewis for other relevant person's contact details)