For years, a foul stench has loomed over the rural community of Shongweni, which neighbours the landfill site, Enviroserv.
After repeated attempts attempts by Enviroserv denying being the primary cause of the smell, countless protests and petitions there seems to be no end in sight for Shongweni residents.
Security guard at the Edamini Primary School, Thulebona Ntuli (59) who lives in Ngqopheni, an area situated very close to the site, has resigned himself to the smell.
“Everyday I smell it, we (the people residing in Ngqopheni) have got used to it because it is very strong on our side,” he said.
“I heard it was going to go away but it has not. It does not necessarily affect me, it is just something that is there. I can’t do anything about it.”
Earlier this year, the community staged a march to Enviroserv and multiple people confirmed that the company promised the smell will go away.
Instead the foul odour has fluctuated, residents say they can smell it at nights and when it’s very hot. Also, on the day after a strong rainfall, the odour is very strong.
Yet not all residents think the smell is as severe as it made out to be. Thabile Maphumulo, who manages a Spaza shop near the primary school, says there is no smell and that some people are overreacting.
“There is no smell, if they say they can smell it then they are lying. Personally I haven’t smelt anything and it does not affect me or my business,” she said.
Maphumulo, whose Spaza shop sells amongst other things, fried chips and vetkoeks, says the landfill site has no direct affect to her business.
Maphumulo does acknowledge that there is a smell when driving past the site but that is normal she argues.
Shongweni residents who commute daily to work whether in the factory town of Pinetown or the neighbouring suburb of Hillcrest, have to endure the smell to and from work.
(Having taken a taxi to Shongweni, past Enviroserv, we can confirm there is a strong smell when going past the site)
Last year the Department of Environmental Affairs ordered Enviroserv to discharge its leachate (percolated liquid waste) to an off-site to alleviate the smell off Shongweni, since then Enviroserv has been transporting its leachate by truck to a waste site in Johannesburg.
In court papers, obtained by Noseweek, Enviroserv filed an interdict with the Gauteng High Court to reverse the DEA’s decision and instead allow Enviroserv to tanker (transport by ship) its leachate to the Southern Waste Water Treatment Works, citing an “environmental disaster” if not allowed to do so.
The transporting of waste to Johannesburg has hurt Enviroserv’s bottom line and production capability.
Despite their revenue taking a hit, Enviroserv has committed to giving back to the community of Shongweni through their Corporate Social Initiatives.
According to the site’s website, during the 2015 – 2016 financial year, the company implemented leanerships for fifty-five unemployed people and in 2017 enrolled eighty unemployed people to partake in a Business Admin Level 2 learnership.
All these people were from the communities they operate in nationally, including Shongweni.
This was corroborated by Nonhle Ntuli (29), an Adult Basic Education Training student, attending at the Edamini Primary School.
“There is no smell, Enviroserv helps out, they help us a lot, there are learnerships and (scholarships) here and in the other school,” she said.
Ntuli sang Enviroserv’s praises, further adding, “They also provide work. The learnerships have been going on for around two months now.”
Although the timeline clashes with the one on Enviroserv’s timeline, there is credence to the company’s CSI.
Ntuli did acknowledge there used to be a foul odour but says she does not smell it anymore bar when it’s hot or the day after heavy downpour.
Principal of the Edamini Primary School, Alfred Ntinga said there had been no reported incident from his students regarding any sicknesses that would result from the stench.
“Community members living around here are affected most by the smell at night. I do not live around here. An expert would better identify with what chemicals are most harmful,” he said.
While in Hillcrest, there has been many reported incidents of children getting sick due to the harmful gas emanating from the site.