Environmental watchdog group Upper Highway Air NPC - the main lobbyists against the alleged “big stink” from waste management company Enviroserv’s Shongweni/Hillcrest landfill site - have approached the Equality Court claiming company employees are harassing residents in the area.
The landfill site has been shut down - and senior management are facing criminal charges - after residents complained about a noxious “rotten egg” smell wafting from the site which, they say, is making them ill.
The Equality Court action, launched this week, stems mainly from events of last Thursday when senior managers of the company appeared in the Durban magistrate's court and were served with a final charge sheet.
A large group of placard-bearing employees came to court to support them, as did a contingent of concerned residents from the area who are monitoring the case.
In its complaint lodged with the Equality Court, the environmental lobby group says it has launched the court action in the interests of the affected community and in the broader public interest.
It points a finger at an employee of the company Vincent Mkhize who, it says, has been making trouble and saying Upper Highway Air and its members were “not welcome in African communities”.
Mkhize, it alleges, has been employed by the company for nine years “and accordingly threats levelled at us and our directors are in fact accusations made by the company”.
Upper Highway alleges that on the day of the court appearance, two company employees Thabiso Taaka and Makgabo van Niekerk led Enviroserv employees, all wearing branded clothing and bearing signs produced and paid for by the company, in a chant.
This included “down with white people, down”, “down oppressors, down”, “down with those who are preventing us from going to work, down”, “down with racism, down” and “the power (is ours!)".
“Taaka and Van Niekerk instigated, advocated and propagated the utterances knowing the circumstances, including that the company had consented to the suspension of its licence (to operate the landfill site).
Intention to promote hate and incite harm
“Reference was made to such people as ‘white people’ who were the oppressors and racists,” Upper Highway said in its complaint.
It said a resident affected by the issue had been blocked by the employees as she left the court. She heard someone saying that they would also block the roads, presumably on the occasion of the next court appearance.
“Taaka and Van Niekerk also publicly thanked the employees and said on the next court date, the entire staff complement would be present.
“Interested and affected community members, were intimidated in the lift….they were accused of being trouble-makers.”
Upper Highway said one man was physically prevented from exiting a lift and had to push his way out to shouts of “phuma phuma” from the employees.
It said the conduct demonstrated a clear intention to promote hate and incite harm.
It wants the court to order that the conduct constitutes hate speech and/or harassment and issue a restraining order.
It also wants an apology and the possible further suspension of the company’s licence.
The company is expected to oppose the application and file its response soon.
The criminal matter - in which the company itself, its CEO Dean Thompson and three officials, Clive Kidd, Esme Gombault and Dr Johan Schoonraad are facing charges which carry penalties or fines of up to R10-million and jail sentences of up to 10 years - has been adjourned until November.
It is alleged that during January 2015 to January 2017 they did not prevent the emission of an offensive “rotten egg” smell, that they failed to manage waste properly and that they did not comply with the conditions of their licence.
They are expected to make an application for further particulars to the charges and will appear in court again in November.