Our Burning Planet

NO GRIST TO THE MILL

Kuils River residents unhappy over ‘flawed’ steel mill stakeholder meeting to discuss pollution

Kuils River residents unhappy over ‘flawed’ steel mill stakeholder meeting to discuss pollution
A plume of smoke billows from one of the stacks of the CISCO steel mill in Kuilsriver, in April this year. Photo: Supplied

Many Kuils River residents affected by pollution from the Kamal Cisco steel mill boycotted a stakeholder meeting at the mill on the night of Thursday, 22 June, claiming that management of the steel mill was ‘manipulating attendance’ to stifle criticism.

Residents have been complaining about air, noise and soil pollution, believed to be caused by the steel mill, since 2017, when it was under the previous management of DHT Holdings Africa. 

Now, residents are complaining again, as the mill has been recommissioned under management of Kamal Cisco, which is obliged to hold regular stakeholder meetings in terms of the Atmospheric Emissions Licence granted by the City of Cape Town in 2019.

One homeowner who was at the meeting, Ayanda Joe, confirmed that only about 12 people attended, of whom about four were Cisco officials. He said the meeting adjourned after about 50 minutes. 

The invitation to the meeting from Cisco’s safety, health, environment risk and quality (SHERQ) systems coordinator, Jacqueline Jansen van Vuuren, provoked outrage from residents, since it restricted attendance to residents from the localised areas of Kuils River. 

I will never allow (myself) to be treated the same as in the apartheid era, they can attend their own meeting.

“The forum is specifically for nominated representatives from the surrounding areas of Vredelust, St Dumas and Highbury,” read the invitation

The invitation also required “all attendees to bring along proof of residence”, which further angered residents and provoked a torrent of disgust expressed in a residents’ WhatsApp group.

“I will never allow (myself) to be treated the same as in the apartheid era, they can attend their own meeting,” complained one resident.

But complaints about pollution have been received from areas as far away as Silver Oaks, and residents who had attended previous meetings were no longer permitted to attend. 

“Kuils River is not bound to certain areas as well as their pollution, it travels the whole of Kuils River but they want to identify only certain areas… so much for being able to show their commitment to transparency,” complained a resident from the Vredelust area. 

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Another resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed he had been turned away last night because he did not have the required proof of residence. 

“Requesting proof of residency as if individuals who rent or stay here without an erf number cannot smell the fumes is pointless in my opinion,” wrote another. 

“Maybe we all decline the meeting based on the exclusion of Kuils River residents who they seem to think are not affected,” responded another. 

“All the affected areas, let’s stop paying rates up until the CITY listen to our complaints and demands,” threatened another resident.

Matter of definition

The invite also invoked debate about how Cisco had deviated from previous definitions of “stakeholder”. 

“Inform Cisco that the stakeholder forum should include all interested and affected parties. Period. How does  legislation define stakeholder? Google definition of a stakeholder – any person or party that is affected or has an interest in an organisation,” challenged another resident. 

The terms of reference for stakeholder meetings defined under the previous management of DHT Holdings Africa on 21 June 2018, states that “in order to ensure that all affected stakeholders are provided with a platform to constructively input into the Plant’s environmental performance and improvement initiatives, Cisco establishes this Stakeholder Forum, with defined objectives and responsibilities.” 

And one of the objectives specified in the terms of reference was “to provide a formal and legitimate structure for interested and affected parties’ (IAP) involvement and disseminate applicable information to stakeholders”.

This has led some residents to accuse Cisco of trying to “rig” the meetings to avoid criticism of the pollution that is said to emanate from the steel mill.

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“It appears they are trying to manipulate the meetings to stifle criticism,” said Stacey de Wet, a mother who claims her son suffers from asthma as a result of the pollution, and an outspoken critic of the steel mill. 

When the mill stopped operating in 2019, the asthma “mysteriously disappeared” she said. “Now the fumes are back, and my instincts tell me they will only get worse.” 

Over the two years of operation under the previous management, residents submitted no fewer than about 450 formal complaints of air, noise and soil pollution, and cited medical ailments including headaches, irritated eyes, skin and nose, asthma, nosebleeds, sinus issues and insomnia. 

Cisco management had not responded to the claims at the time of publication. DM

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