Maverick Citizen

COURT-ORDERED CLEAN-UP

How East London residents won an order compelling municipality to clean up popular picnic site

How East London residents won an order compelling municipality to clean up popular picnic site
Dead fish from the Nahoon River were taken as samples during an inspection by the Department of Water and Sanitation posted on 9 April 2024. I Eric Williams-Jones and his Team of volunteers, facilitated by Nahoon River residents, cleaned the Estuary of all rubbish along the banks of the River. 10 April 2024. I Plastic bottles scattered in the Nahoon River after rain. 15 April 2024. (Photos: facebook.com/nahoonestuary)

Residents tired of rubbish, public drinking and noise at the popular Nahoon Estuary picnic site in East London won a major victory against the Buffalo City Municipality, which was ordered by a court to clean up the mess. But it took a lot of patience and a lot of meetings, the chairperson of the Nahoon River Estuary Management Forum said.

It was the 2-litre cool drink bottles that finally got to Christo Theart.

As the chairperson of the Nahoon River Estuary Management Forum, he attended all the meetings and read the gazetted plans and agreements that never translated into action while the plastic bottles kept piling up in his beloved Nahoon Estuary.

Then someone stole a boat.

“Because the gates don’t lock, the thieves came in the middle of the night with a bakkie and a trailer and stole a neighbour’s boat,” Theart said on Thursday, 18 April 2024.

The ongoing frustration of the Nahoon River Estuary Management Forum has now translated into a powerful document: A court order from the East London High Court ordering the Buffalo City Municipality to clean up the picnic sites, lock all the gates and apply city by-laws.

The Nahoon Estuary is a nature reserve that protects the area where the Nahoon River flows into the sea. It is surrounded by two other nature reserves, the Estuary Nature Reserve and the Nahoon Point Nature Reserve.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Sewage spills — Nahoon estuary forum takes Buffalo City municipality to court, again

“The Nahoon Estuary Management Plan has been promulgated and published in the Government Gazette but that didn’t help,” Theart said.

“The local community has had problems with what happens at the picnic sites for a very long time. We had a meeting with the municipality. They said they would consider our plight and get back to us. But they never did. We wrote letters. These were not answered. Then we had to see an attorney.”

“They claim they no longer paid overtime so they couldn’t get someone to lock the place up at night. Then they said they couldn’t lock it because the lock was vandalised.”

Drunken parties and nightly shenanigans at the picnic site continued.

“Then a boat was taken from the launch site in the middle of the park. That was when we went to court,” he said. “And we won all the way.”

Enforcing by-laws

In papers before the court, the following problems were highlighted by the forum:

  • The picnic site is overcrowded by members of the public playing loud music, drinking and littering. There is no municipal law enforcement present at the site.
  • The boom gate that provides access to both picnic and launch sites has a broken lock and the boom gate is closed with a piece of wire that can be removed at any time. The launch site does not have separate access as its access is linked to the picnic site.

Acting Judge Aaron Zono, who ruled in favour of the residents, said in his judgment:

“The Nahoon Estuary Management Forum is justified in approaching this court to seek relief directing the Municipality to keep the park free of litter by regularly cleaning the park and providing more bins in the park area. That is consistent with the Constitution.”

He said it was also consistent with the municipality’s own by-laws and the municipality cannot merely ignore its own by-laws.

He said the responsibility to take care of public parks also includes fencing the parks and erecting proper and working boom gates. General monitoring and controlling of public places like municipal parks is the responsibility reposed to the municipality. Control of public nuisance, noise pollution and use of liquor in public places or parks is a municipal responsibility.

“The site users and the community around the sites have a right to an environment that is free of crime, as envisaged in section 3 of the standard by-law relating to Municipal Parks. They have a right to enjoy the parks that are clean, secured or fenced, without noise pollution or excessive loud music.

“They have a right not to experience uncontrolled intoxication of liquor in the park by park users. They have a right to notices prominently displayed at the entrance to any part of the park indicating the days and hours during which such park or part thereof shall be open to the public and places where fires may be lit. They have a right to protection of these rights by the municipality by means of enforcing and administering its by-law relating to parks and the by-law on waste management. They have a right to use a park or site that is not overcrowded,” Zono wrote.

“The Municipality has failed to protect these rights and as a result, the park or site users are unable to enjoy those rights,” he added.

The order

He ordered the following:

  • The municipality must take measures to ensure access control, limit access, and open and lock the boom gate at designated times at the park area within 90 days of the granting of this order;
  • The municipality must maintain and keep the park free of litter by regularly cleaning the park and providing more bins in the park area;
  • The municipality must ensure that the old lock at the boom gate of the picnic site is replaced with a working and more suitable lock;
  • The municipality must fence the boundary of the picnic area to avoid unauthorised access to the picnic site within 90 days;
  • The municipality must take measures to monitor and control the use of liquor and excessive music being played at the picnic site;
  • The municipality must put up a sign stating that those who enter do so at their own risk, displaying the operation hours for the boat launch site and indicating that a launch permit will be required;
  • He also ordered that a boom gate be erected at the launch site.

Earlier this month a judge ruled that the municipality must pay the costs of the application.

Theart said that their intention was for the Nahoon picnic site to be used for its intended purpose — for people to enjoy nature, exercise, walk and spend time outdoors together.

“Our civil society organisations will also help where we can. We do a river clean-up every week. Organisations help to clean up the picnic site,” he said.

“The sheer amount of 2-liter plastic cooldrink bottles keep us very busy,” he said.

The municipality has not yet responded to a request for comment. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • andrew farrer says:

    these judgements need to be against the municipality AND the municiple manager, mayor, mcm responsible for parks & policing thereof, IN their personal capacity!

  • John Patson says:

    One blue light car, two police officers, their guns and equipment, equals one park tractor and trailer and five jobs in the parks for cleaners, maintenance and keeping it peaceful.
    Which does the ANC always choose?

  • Kevin Venter says:

    So the rate paying citizens now have to turn to the courts to:
    a) compel a municipality to do the job that it is responsible for in the first place
    b) compel a municipality to enforce the by-laws that are defined by the same very same municipality.

    If that isn’t the most absurd thing then I don’t know what is.

  • As the Advocate that argued this matter in High Court I can confirm that the municipal manager was cited as a party as was the BCM itself. Despite having argued a number of similar cases it would appear that obtaining an order is the first step, thereafter it remains the responsibility of the BCM to comply with that order. I agree to a certain extent that NPO’S such as the NEMF should not have to institute court proceedings in order for the BCM to carry out its legal and Constitutional mandate.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

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