Breaking News 24 August 2017

EnviroServ taken to equality court over “racial instigation”.

Civic group Upper Highway Air (UHA) this week lodged a complaint with the equality court against EnviroServ and its employees, whom the non-profit has accused of instigating hate speech and harassment against the UHA and other interested and affected parties embroiled in the Shongweni landfill saga.

In May last year, Noseweek broke the story about communities near and around the landfill claiming they were experiencing multiple illnesses as a result of toxic fumes escaping from the massive dump (See noses199; 200; 203; 204; 205; 210; 211; 212; 213 and 214).

The UHA was set up in 2016 by a group of residents being affected by the malodour from EnviroServ’s contentious Shongweni Landfill and is currently embroiled in a civil case against the waste management giant. In April, it was granted an urgent interdict stopping the company from accepting, treating or disposing of any new waste at the Shongweni landfill.

At a court appearance last week in the State’s criminal case against the company, events took a nasty turn. Noseweek witnessed some EnviroServ employees – clad in company T-shirts with placards - congregate outside the Durban Magistrate’s Court, singing and toyi-toying, shouting “down with white people” alongside chants of “down with racism”.

Appearing in court were coastal manager Clive Kidd, group technical director Esmé Gombault and chief executive officer Dean Thompson. Also charged but excused from appearing because of illness was group technical specialist Dr Johan Schoonraad. All four were charged in their personal capacities under the National Environmental Waste Management Act and the related Air Quality Act for mismanagement at the landfill.

According to UHA’s submission to the equality court – which included video and photographic evidence – EnviroServ’s public affairs manager, Makgabo van Niekerk and spokesperson, Thabiso Taaka, were “directing” employees while the following chants were made outside the court: “Down with white people, down!”; “Down with the oppressors, down!”; “Down with those who are preventing us from going to work, down!” ;“Down with racism, down!”; “The power! (Is Ours!)”

The UHA has also accused some EnviroServ employees of harassing residents who were present at the court.

Claims of racism have only recently appeared in the nearly two year saga, with well-known environmental activist Desmond D’Sa and other residents of all races telling Noseweek that EnviroServ had shifted to using “the race card” as a “tactic” because of the weakness of its case.

According to D’Sa, it was not an uncommon “strategy” by waste companies whose operations affected rural areas with mostly black African residents.

The aim of the alleged racial campaign is to pit middle class mostly white residents against unemployed or working class mostly black African residents in order for the company to get its preferred candidates on the landfill’s monitoring committee to maintain control of information flow. Speaking to Noseweek at the court, Taaka denied any such campaign existed.

Also named in the UHA’s equality court submission were Vincent Mkhize and his brother Dumisani (see nose214), who were both present at the Magistrate’s Court. Vincent was photographed holding a placard in favour of EnviroServ that read “I have been working at EnviroServ for 9 years and am still here, healthy and alive!!!”

Vincent is a director of Siyathutuka Environment Development, established in April this year, and has told Noseweek that he and Siyathutuka have no ties to EnviroServ. He also claims to be a long time member of the monitoring committee that oversees the landfill.

Noseweek could find no evidence that Mkhize was a member of the monitoring committee and EnviroServ refused to supply a list of members, citing concerns over releasing personal information. Vincent had previously told D’Sa via email (with EnviroServ managers, DEA officials and others copied in) that D’Sa and his “troublemaker friends” “are not welcome in our communities. You are only interested in getting into the papers to become famous just for making chaos.”

After speaking via telephone, and at Vincent’s request, Noseweek agreed to meet with him a few days before the Magistrate’s Court appearance. He didn’t pitch.

He did, however, send out an email to senior EnviroServ staff, DEA officials and other interested and affected parties (Noseweek was not included in the list of recipients and received it via a third party) after the publication of a Noseweek article accusing this writer of not identifying herself as a journalist when speaking to him. Sending Mkhize screenshots of a WhatsApp conversation that took place easily refuted this. He is yet to retract the lie.

The UHA is seeking the equality court to declare that the conduct of EnviroServ’s employees constitutes hate speech and or harassment and that an “appropriate order” is issued that will restrain the respondents from “instigating, inciting and /or propagating, advocating or communicating hate speech or harassing the Complainant and the interested and affected parties of the targeted group…”

UHA is also seeking an apology and that EnviroServ’s licence be suspended or revoked as a result of its actions.

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