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Stop killing poor communities – residents demand

Durban South residents picketed outside the Sapref refinery, demanding answers from management, especially regarding air pollution in the South of Durban.

A GROUP of environmentalists and its alliance partners picketed outside the Sapref refinery in Prospecton in support of the Gqeberha residents in the Eastern Cape who are fighting to oppose Shell and its local partner, Impact Africa. Shell is trying to overturn the Makhanda High Court’s 2022 decision to nullify its right to explore for oil in the Eastern Cape. The matter is being heard at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein today (May 17).

Also read: Government in a bid to save Sapref jobs

In support of the Eastern Cape residents, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and residents from the South of Durban marched outside the oil refinery today to demand answers from Shell, which they accuse of polluting the air, resulting in residents getting asthma and cancer due to the toxic smoke coming from the company.

Leader of the SDCEA Desmond D’sa said the march was also to remind Shell about a letter of demand sent to its management in November last year regarding complaints raised about air pollution in the South of Durban.

“There have been many atrocities caused by the Shell company in the South of Durban. Residents have been subjected to inhumane conditions, and therefore, it is time that we stand up and force Shell to stop polluting the air. In 1996, the company committed itself to building a cancer and asthma clinic, however, that promise was never fulfilled. We want to remind the company that, as the South of Durban residents, we have not forgotten about the commitment that was made.

Leader of the SDCEA Desmond D’sa addresses residents outside Sapref’s refinery.

“Sapref refinery is the largest crude oil refinery in South Africa, and has, for a long time, operated in the vicinity of impoverished communities comprised of predominately Black Africans, Indians and mixed-race residents. Due to uncaring management, the refinery’s ageing infrastructure has resulted in a series of raging fires, spills and extreme gas-flaring and leaks over the years – inflicting severe consequences on local residents. Will Shell acknowledge its toxic legacy and bear the responsibility of cleaning up its vast mess, including a now-shuttered refinery?” said D’sa.

Also read: Air pollution test confirms high levels of benzene in Merebank

In a memorandum handed over to Sapref’s representative, Zamasomi Msomi, the residents demanded that Shell decommission the damaged infrastructure and replace the refinery site with something useful to the community, pay reparations to affected communities who have suffered the exposure of oil spills, gas flaring and toxic pollution since 1963, and the building of the cancer and asthma clinic. Msomi said a memorandum will be sent to the management of Shell.

Manager for support services at Sapref, Zamasomi Msomi, addressing residents after receiving the memorandum.

The police and metro were on standby while residents were picketing and chanting slogans outside the Sapref refinery.

According to a report compiled by Llewellyn Leonard (professor of Environmental Science) from the University of South Africa (UNISA), in 2018, the South Durban basin was declared a pollution hotspot, according to the provincial government’s Environment Outlook Report. A report published on the UNISA website revealed that, as far back as 2002, a study by medical researchers at the local Settlers Primary School, bordering the Engen refinery, found that 52% of learners suffered from severe asthma. It was also found that children in the region were much more likely to suffer from chest complaints than children in other parts of Durban.

Community members chanting slogans outside the oil refinery.

The study also revealed that there were previous attempts by the eThekwini Municipality ‘to implement measures to monitor and address pollution risks in South Durban under the previous Multi-Point Plan‘, however, the plan fell away in 2010.

Zamasomi Msomi (left) signs a memorandum while Janeira Reddy from SDCEA looks on.

“The plan was initiated by civil society and was a collaboration between the government, industry and civil society. It resulted in an improved air-quality monitoring network. The efforts have since collapsed because new local government leadership didn’t take the plan forward. This led to a complete collapse of air-quality monitoring systems,” said Leonard in a report.

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