ROAD TO 2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS
The filth and the fury: Desperate Makhanda residents obtain court order forcing municipality to clean up the town
In another major legal victory for residents of Makhanda, the High Court has ordered the municipality to start a regular waste collection and provide sufficient refuse bags or wheelie bins to households.
The Grahamstown High Court has granted a far-reaching order forcing the Makana municipality to collect refuse, provide garbage bags to households and manage the town’s rubbish properly after fed-up residents resorted to legal action after being ignored by council officials.
The case was brought against the Makana municipality by the Ezihagwini Street Committee and the School Governing Body of Mary Waters High School, represented by the Legal Resources Centre.
In 2020, the Grahamstown High Court ordered that the Makana municipal council be dissolved due to its unconstitutional failure to deliver services to the residents of Makhanda. The case was taken on appeal by the premier of the Eastern Cape, Oscar Mabuyane.
Since then, the court has held council officials in contempt for failing to manage the municipal landfill. It has also ordered the municipality to report to a judge on the management of water leaks and sewerage in the town.
Several community activists involved in the watershed case to have the municipal council dissolved, led by Lungile Mxube, have meanwhile established the Makana Citizens Front (MCF) to stand in the upcoming local elections. Apart from promising to provide proper municipal services, the MCF said they would see to it that the “corrupt thieves” of Makhanda – “officials and councillors” – are arrested.
Other than the Makana municipality, other respondents in the matter include the national Minister of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fishing, Barbara Creecy, the Eastern Cape MEC for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Mlungisi Mvoko, and the MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Xolile Nqatha.
The court was asked to declare the Makana municipality’s by-laws unconstitutional as they failed to protect and fulfil residents’ rights to an environment that is not harmful to their health.
The court also ordered the council to clean up all illegal dumpsites within 14 days and hold public meetings to identify and clean up any other illegal dumpsites that were not mentioned in the court documents.
The municipality was also ordered to provide three plastic refuse bags or a wheelie bin to each household each week.
The council will also have to appoint a waste management officer within 90 days and conduct an audit outlining the municipality’s waste removal needs within the same period. The council will need to submit a report on steps taken to comply with the order.
“Rubbish is strewn in the streets, across open fields and in vacant lots; gutters are blocked by refuse and rubbish is often piled up on street corners,” court papers read.
“Illegal dumping sites are situated on numerous plots of vacant land around Makhanda, predominantly in poorer areas and often next to public schools. Apart from being unsightly, the rubbish smells very bad and makes breathing unpleasant and sometimes difficult. The rubbish also attracts rodents which in turn attract snakes.
“The problem is particularly acute in the townships and informal settlements.”
The first applicant in the case was the Ezihagweni Street Committee. Vuyelwa Maholo from the committee said in papers that she has lived in the area for the past 20 years with her husband and their five children.
“The area in Extension 6 where I live is referred to as ‘Ezihagweni’, which loosely translates as ‘Place of the Pigs’ or ‘Pig Sty’.
“Waste management in Makana Municipality is in disarray. Although there is a schedule for refuse collection, it is not followed consistently, and sometimes not at all. Rubbish often covers the streets and sidewalks, particularly in the townships. There are very few bins for the public to dispose of waste.
“Black bags left in the streets for collection are often ripped open by scavenging animals, spreading refuse. Some businesses dump their excess refuse in illegal dumping sites in broad daylight, without consequence.
“In or around February 2019, municipal workers went on a lengthy strike and stopped all refuse collection for months, and there have been a number of shorter strikes by municipal workers since then. Residents of Makana Municipality have become extremely frustrated and have formed crisis committees to attempt to address the problem. The Ezihagwini Street Committee is just one example.
“The Makana Municipality tolerates illegal dumpsites by failing to prevent their formation and failing to clear them. These dumpsites form mainly because the Makana Municipality does not collect refuse consistently, or does not do so frequently enough to remove the quantity of domestic waste requiring collection.
“There is a dumpsite across the street from my home, adjacent to the Jehovah’s Witness church approximately 100 metres along the road from my house,” Maholo said.
She added that the site was last cleared by the municipality in preparation for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to the town on 27 April 2019.
“There is another, even larger illegal dumpsite 200 metres along the road from my house in the opposite direction and close to DD Siwisa Primary School… The dumpsite has been there for more than five years. The site has never been cleared in the past five years. The rubbish smells terrible and often makes learning conditions at the school intolerable. The school is forced to keep classroom windows closed, even when the weather is hot. Also, young learners often play at the illegal dumping site after school as it is in an open and unsupervised space. A nearby vacant house on my street is also being used as a dumpsite.
“The Makana municipality did not collect rubbish from our area to be taken to the main city dumpsite for approximately three months between December 2018 and March 2019. While rubbish collection did resume in April 2019, it is not collected regularly or often enough to prevent dumping in the various unofficial dumpsites. Residents often have no option but to dispose of their rubbish at the unofficial dumpsites.
“Residents are not willing to have large piles of rubbish stacked up for lengthy periods of time in, or in front of their yards, as dogs and other animals break the bags to scavenge through the rubbish and create a huge mess.
“Sometimes, to clear the informal dumpsites, residents burn the rubbish, which produces smoke and fumes. Animals such as dogs, donkeys and goats rip open rubbish bags at the unofficial dumping sites. The smell is always unpleasant, and at times it is unbearable. It is particularly bad during warm weather. I don’t open my door anymore when it is hot because the smell comes into my house and is overpowering,” Maholo said.
Maholo said the Mary Waters High School was also “inundated with rubbish along its boundary that smells bad, is unsightly and makes the school environment unsafe and unhealthy”.
Thembisa Qangule said in papers before court that the unlawful dumpsite next to his house has been there for years but nothing is ever done by the municipality. Requests to the municipality to remove the rubbish are ignored.
“I used to burn the rubbish on the illegal dumpsite to try and control it, but many of my neighbours complained about the smoke and the smell and asked me to stop,” he said.
In February 2018, Ted Pillay of the Sarah Baartman District Municipality was brought in to assist with the management of the Makana Municipality. In council documents he noted that “when one travels through Grahamstown in particular, it is very evident that refuse dumping is a major problem. The filthy conditions are a breeding ground for disease and the poor are the most vulnerable. Garbage has been dumped throughout the town. Refuse collection is a headache. A common excuse is that there is no funding to repair the vehicles.
“It is very evident that the municipal departments work in silos. For example, street cleaners will not pull out weeds growing on the sidewalks. The Parks Department will not pick up refuse in the vicinity of where they are working. Ultimately it is left to the technical department to clean up.” Pillay said the non-availability of vehicles and a lack of urgency on the part of the council caused the town to look unsightly.
The municipality’s Integrated Waste Management Plan highlighted many shortcomings – the council had “limited capacity” relating to waste management, landfill sites were not managed to legal standards, limited resources were allocated to waste management and waste management services were not financially sustainable.
The report noted there was “limited knowledge and awareness” among officials and communities relating to waste management.
The plan identified close to 50 illegal dumping spots in the town.
“We have gone to the municipality on many occasions to ask for help with clearing the rubbish. However, they never seemed to care and gave us many excuses for not coming. The excuses were that the municipality refuse collection trucks do not have enough fuel and some are broken down, thus they are unable to assist us,” Maholo said.
“Residents have contacted the municipality on multiple occasions to report illegal dumpsites and request the municipality’s assistance with cleaning up the refuse. The municipality either ignores the requests completely or makes a small effort without addressing the underlying, structural problems that lead to illegal dumping.”
Errol Goliath, representing the governing body of Mary Waters High School, said the illegal dumping site appeared a few years ago.
“We have reported it to the Makana municipality on many occasions. There was a time the municipality tried to assist the school and erected a board that indicated dumping on that site is illegal… that board was uprooted within a few weeks.
In April 2019, we went to the municipality to report [illegal dumping] in front of our main gate. The municipality sent out its workers to clean the refuse for that one time. However, this has not solved the bigger problem we are facing as a school due to illegal dumping.
“The municipality has been uncooperative… the numerous concerned residents of Makana approached the Legal Resources Centre in March 2019 and requested assistance in taking legal action to remedy the waste collection issues.”
Lawyers for the Makhanda municipality conceded to the order made by Judge Richard Brooks. DM/MC