Firstly, an acknowledgement of the clean- up of the landfill site which has been on-going during the last week: there is now a huge difference at the site and a reduction in large scale dumping of waste. Thanks to the Mayor and the Municipality for their response to the request to get this done, and for calling a meeting on March 3rd.
To clarify: ‘Clean Air group’ or GASP (Group Against Swellendam Pollution) is not a formal body: it is a simply a group of Swellendam residents who share the common goal of eradicating the fires at the landfill site and exploring alternatives for it and for further solutions to managing waste disposal through recycling initiatives.
It was established at the beginning of the forum that the “focus should be on presenting clear factual information. A cooperative, supportive and non-adversarial approach should be taken initially in engaging the municipality in order to seek solutions, while holding them to public accountability and emphasizing the urgency of the matter at hand as one of major social, environmental and legal consequences.” ( minutes of the full discussion can be found under the Mayor’s letter on this page)
It emerged during the discussion that rumours were rife regarding the site and its management – everyone had heard versions “gangsters / mafia – deliberate fire setting – lack of security and firearms – mismanagement – corruption”. It was decided nothing was to be gained by basing action on rumour and the only way forward was to self-educate – so that questions or issues raised at the meeting were based on fact and not on gossip.Since then the process of self-education has begun and continues on several fronts:
In direct response to the Mayor’s letter we would like to endorse his position that rumour mongers, those with hidden political agendas and personal vendettas actively damage possibilities of working together to find solutions for the future. We feel that it may have harmed future cooperative efforts if the wider public believe that the group is dominated by such people because this is absolutely and emphatically not the case.
The collective group is solution driven – speculation is not welcome and those who have been involved in the process so far would like to strongly disassociate themselves from any suggestion of interference with political process, or personal antipathy towards members of the Council or administration, at the same time reserving the right to raise questions if we discover, through our fact finding mission, irregularities of any sort.
The next step will be to look for a permanent and effective waste management plan for the area – preferably an innovative one which will bring attention to the area in all the best ways.
PLEASE ATTEND THE PUBLIC MEETING ON MARCH 3rd – IF YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT WASTE MANAGEMENT AND THE CHALLENGES IT PRESENTS. EMAIL YOUR QUESTIONS TO firstname.lastname@example.org
“I popped into Bontebok dump this morning and I was totally amazed at the cleanup operation in progress. The entire eastern slope has been cleared of garbage and things are really looking good. Fires seem to be under control and contractor on site with his team.”
Dear SwellendammerNICHOLAS MYBURGH/Mayor
Waste management, civic action, and the nasty gossipers!
I guess there’s a mean streak in all of us, in some more so than in others, and some are simply better at hiding theirs!
I have no problem with legitimate civic action. In fact, I consider it to be a crucial component of any vibrant democracy, and would under normal circumstances encourage robust but civilized public participation.
I was hoping that ‘Clean Air’, or ‘Gasp’, would be such an initiative, especially since they proclaimed at the outset their intention to engage stakeholders to help find solutions to the unsatisfactory state of affairs at our Landfill site…laudable indeed, so I thought.
About a week ago I penned an open letter to the public on the subject of our waste management challenges. I invited anyone with constructive proposals to contact my office directly through the email address provided. It was also posted on the ‘Clean Air’ platform.
To date not a single response has been received from anybody. Instead, it appears the ‘Clean Air’ participants have been rallied to chat, discuss, plot and manoeuvre among themselves how best to embarrass the municipality and expose the ghastly monsters who ambulate the sinister corridors of municipal power. Engaging with criminal investigators, preparing affidavits, meetings to plan the next assault on the criminal gang that rule the dorp…let’s lay criminal charges against the municipal manager, mayor, the entire Mayco…crooks all! Armageddon is here and we are all going to die…so slay the dragons at city hall!
And let the insults fly because ‘the nastier we are the more we will achieve’, or such is the mentality of some. ‘Gross inaction, complete lack of accountability, dereliction of duty’…..Meanwhile, the more reasoned voices who are trying to moderate the conversation, and those who appeal for a fair and balanced assessment are drowned out by the Terminators! And just for good measure
let’s throw in the juicy bit about ‘corruption’ to make things sexier and more palatable for public consumption…did you know the mayor stole the money, millions of Rands, allocated to fix the Landfill, and the mayor’s friends get the contracts, and so on! (Reminds me of the time I was accused of stealing an entire wind farm…yes, a wind farm!)
Gosh, I suppose “all is fair in love and war”!
But really folks, dare I say… “Sit back and take a deep breath”.
If anybody wants to be taken seriously about this very important matter of waste management, then let us simply stick to the facts and please stop with the nastiness, the slurs and insults, the half-truths and exaggerations…stoking one another up in an emotional frenzy will achieve nothing. All it does is to create a silly diversion away from the important matter at hand.
Since we have absolutely nothing to hide, and for the sake of healthy public engagement, I have arranged a public meeting for 3 March in the Town Hall. So, whatever it is that you say behind our backs… the slander, gossip, truths, bona fide concerns, etc… please come and express yourself. As always I will be frank and direct, and I invite everyone to do the same.
13 February 2020
(the meeting was recorded and the recording provided the text of the following)
Notes of Meeting held 10 February, 2020 at Veldkornet Street, Swellendam
PRESENT: Jenni van Niekerk (facilitator), Nick Scholtz, Natalie Brown, John Paisley, Amanda Shackley, Amber McIntyre, Jesse Jessup, Anthony Hunter, Nancy Soller, Jill Reinecke, Terry Andrew, Gerda Mercorio, Alex Hayn, Elana Theunissen.
Congratulations and thanks all round for being a really great “self-emerging, self-organizing movement,” as Jenni put it.
Anthony offered a written document from the Director of Corporate Services (Dana du Plessis) stating that the Bontebok Waste Disposal tender has not been awarded yet as none of the tenderers met the minimum compliance criteria. The long-term solution is transporting waste to Karwyderskraal [landfill site 118km away operated by Overberg District Municipality]. In the meantime a month-to-month agreement has been made with a local service provider. He listed the immediate actions that are necessary, but never mentioned extinguishing the fires.
According to Dana du Plessis, DEA&DP has recently met with the Mayor.
PURPOSE OF THE MEETING
It was proposed that the purpose of the meeting was to prepare for the public meeting called by the Mayor on 3rd March, as well as to identify a core group to formulate a list of questions and present these to him prior to that public meeting. A secondary objective was to discuss a suitable communication platform for ongoing engagement with interested citizens.
Each person introduced themselves using the prompt ‘Who I am. Why I care. What I feel called/able to do. What I bring.’
Skills in the group include: investigative, communications and media, organizational, legal, facilitation and planning, networking, animal welfare, civil engineering, research, negotiation and representation.
Jenni read out a message from Lisa Perold describing the state of the illegal and unsecured Suurbraak dump including the fact that the waste includes veterinary waste, carcasses, and empty agricultural poison containers, and it is situated in a watershed. The thick oily leachate flows into the river and eventually into the Buffelsjagsrivier which in turn irrigates food/silage production.
John introduced the Sustainable Green Swellendam Initiative and that they hope to become an umbrella organization for various initiatives including recycling – which we can talk about down the road.
It was requested by members present that we continue to focus on presenting clear non-aggressive and factual information. It was also discussed that a cooperative, supportive and non-adversarial approach should be taken initially in engaging the municipality in order to seek solutions, while holding them to public accountability and emphasizing the urgency of the matter at hand as one of major social, environmental and legal consequences.
TO BE FOLLOWED UP IN THE GROUP:
DISCUSSION OF GROUP STRUCTURE
At this stage there is no formal entity, just a network of concerned and active citizens with varying degrees of involvement.
Suggested 3 concentric circles:
It was proposed that the core group for the preparation of the questions for the Mayor be:
ALEX, NANCY, GABRIELLA, and TERRY, and that the list of questions be ready to present to the Mayor by Tuesday 25th February.
POINTS TO BE TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION BY THE CORE GROUP FOR THE LIST OF QUESTIONS:
FIRE: Most urgent! What measures are in place to extinguish fires completely and prevent further re-ignition. Why has the district fire department not been engaged since they have the expertise and equipment to put the fire out?
TENDERS and FINANCE: State of past and current tenders and budget expenditure. The previous tender was cancelled. What happened to the money previously spent without effective outcomes – will it be refunded? This person is the same one who is currently working on the site – yet he has failed in the past – why is he still employed? Can the new tender be an opportunity to set specifications that support a thoughtfully designed integrated waste management plan, with environmental best practice and economic opportunity considered.
LANDFILL CLOSURE: Since the landfill site is reaching capacity, what is in place to rehabilitate the site and secure it so that it can go through the rehab process? According to the law it takes 30 years of monitoring before the site can be signed off and closed as it can continue to pollute the ground and water.
SOCIAL: Is there a plan for the people currently living and working on the dump? They are resourceful actors in the system. How can they be incorporated in a dignified and healthy way?
HEALTH AND SAFETY: Raising concerns of air pollution and its effect on the community’s health, as well as the threat to aviation, and the danger of sink holes for people and vehicles accessing the dump site.
CRIMINAL: Why has the municipality not produced an Integrated Waste Management Plan as required by law? What actions have been taken to address legal and tender non-compliance? HAS THIS DUMP EVER BEEN DESIGNED as a technically sustainable dump according to legal guidelines?
There was a request that all members become familiar with what SHOULD be happening before the meeting on the 3rd so that informed questions can be asked. Waste Management guidelines and best practices will be passed around within the group in a few days.
A meeting for the core group will be held at Alex’s offices this week to begin the List of Issues we would like to have presented to the Mayor for responses. Further discussion is needed to formulate the tactics in engaging the municipality, devise a balance and well researched presentation/document for submission, and decide on a spokesperson/people for the meeting.
It was a good and vibrant meeting of concerned individuals!
Early visit to the dump: No fires and the place is being transformed. It may look untidy only because of the clean up
Thursday PM Dump update: All good news today, no fires and the dump site is being transformed with many workers cleaning the surrounds. Two machines working and one can see the difference. I spoke to the site manager, Mr. Andre Petersen, and he is positive and determined to sort out the issues, the fires being his top priority. Today is the day we give credit to those people who are making a difference and progress is right before our eyes.
PM update: no fires, dump being cleaned up and at 5:15 one machine still working with the other two standing idle.
Dump report: No fires, three machines onsite with two apparently broken. Many workers cutting grass and cleaning up.
Breaking news: As from this morning SOILL have been banned from dumping hazardous and highly flammable waste at the dump.
Site foreman complained about the publicity on the Gram
Fire is out.
“Bontebok dump update; fires raging and toxic fumes being blown into town. Both machines are idle, they are waiting for an operator for the one and the other is broken again. The mechanics are working on the machine without any form of protection from the toxic fumes. There are people cutting the grass!
This is a complete disaster and requires urgent intervention if only to save the workers from being slowly poisoned. None have any form of mask. ” AH
“No fires this morning, a machine working and they are planning to bring in soil today. They are still missing a compacting machine.”
The Mayor has announced an open public meeting:
March 3rd Town Hall 6 30 pm
Today a group of people met , who had been brought together by online discussions about the crisis of fires at the dump. Outside the window of the meeting place, in central Swellendam, a plume of black smoke hovered – a terrible visual reminder of the reason we were there. As we left the venue darkness had fallen – but the reminder was still there in the thickness of the air and the acrid smell.
Summary of Meeting
The announcement of an Open Public Meeting on March 3rd was met with approval of the Municipality’s acknowledgement and recognition of the issues. But concerns about the lack of urgency – “the fires need to be dealt with NOW”
How quickly things change……
Read the media release statement by Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Anton Bredell
‘The new facility will serve multiple municipalities along the Garden Route and aims to stimulate the waste economy, create jobs and reduce the environmental impacts of waste management in the region.’
A welcome update: Today at the dump there are bulldozers, plenty of supervision and no visible fires.
Click the above title to read an article written in 2008 – a full 12 years ago – about the fires burning in the dump in Swellendam. We are asking the Municipality what steps have been taken in the last 12 years to address the situation, and how we as concerned citizens can assist the process.
This is a platform for bringing awareness and organising action around the Waste Management issues at Bontebok municipal dump, and especially the ongoing fires that are causing immense damage to our health and environment.
A WhatsApp group was created for discussion around this issue and has now grown too large to continue in that format, and so has moved to this forum. All concerned citizens are invited to engage in this conversation, and information will be posted on this site so that all can be aware of what action has been taken and what information has been gathered from the various authorities.
The fires need to be completely extinguished. Following that, we need to work with the municipality and restructure our Waste Management so that it is in line with the environmental laws designed to provide a healthy environment for all. Other municipalities are successfully dealing with these issues – surely we can learn from them and do the same.
Everyone is welcome to comment here – but comments will only be posted if they are constructive and encourage solutions.
To officials and councillors concerned:
We address this letter to you as concerned residents and ratepayers for the Greater Swellendam Municipal Area.
During weekly visits to the Bontebok waste site, it has become apparent that little or no supervision takes place and that the site has degenerated into a disaster area.
Our concerns are the following:
We do not wish to labour the many obvious points relating to this Municipal disaster. It is of our opinion that this unsatisfactory state of affairs cannot continue unchecked and indefinitely.
Swellendam Municipality needs to accept responsibility and implement a proper waste disposal process.
There are numerous examples available ie Gordon’s Bay, Knysna, Plett, Mossel Bay of functional recycling refuse sites.
We would appreciate your feedback on a proposed solution and an immediate extinguishing of smouldering fires at the site.
“Incineration of plastic waste in an open field is a major source of air pollution. Most of the times, theMunicipal Solid Waste containing about 12% of plastics is burnt, releasing toxic gases like Dioxins, Furans,
Mercury and Polychlorinated Biphenyls into the atmosphere. Further, burning of Poly Vinyl Chloride liberates hazardous halogens and pollutes air, the impact of which is climate change. The toxic substances thus
released are posing a threat to vegetation, human and animal health and environment as a whole.
Polystyrene is harmful to Central Nervous System. The hazardous brominated compounds act as carcinogens and mutagens. Dioxins settle on the crops and in our waterways where they eventually enter into our food and hence the body system. These Dioxins are the lethal persistent organic pollutants (POPs) andits worst component, 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), commonly known as agentorange is a toxic compound which causes cancer and neurological damage, disrupts reproductive thyroid and respiratory systems. Thus, burning of plastic wastes increase the risk of heart disease, aggravates respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema and cause rashes, nausea or headaches, and damages the nervous system. Hence, a sustainable step towards tomorrow’s cleaner and healthier environment needs immediate attention of the environmentalists and scientists.”
Dear Swellendammers 7 February 2020
I would like to take the matter of our landfill site directly to the public. It is time we have an open and frank discussion.
There are many views, complaints, suggestions, criticism and advice about the state and general management of the landfill site.
It is true that the condition of the landfill site is not acceptable. Nobody disputes that.
In particular, the occurrence of sporadic fires, hovering smoke, and the release of toxic fumes into the sky is not something that anyone can ignore, or justify.
The primary cause of fires is the number of unauthorized people, so-called ‘waste pickers’, who live on site. They burn all sorts of material in order to get to the enclosed metals which are then sold to dealers in scrap metal. This is how they make a living, and are adamant that this is the only way for them to survive. We have tried various measures to have them removed but thus far without success.
The ‘waste pickers’ can be forcibly removed today, but will certainly return tomorrow. The solution to this problem lies elsewhere. In the meantime the smoke and fires remain a menace which needs to be dealt with.
As an interim emergency measure the municipality has acquired a service provider with specialized heavy machinery who can do the necessary tidying up of the site, but also do compaction and provide adequate surface covering, and generally take measures that will prevent fires on an ongoing basis. Swellendam Municipality (SM) does not have this kind of machinery and rely on contractors to provide the service.
At the same time we need to have a discussion about the future of waste management for the simple reason that our own landfill site is coming perilously close to saturation point. In other words, we are running out of space. We simply cannot continue dumping next door to the current site because landfill sites are nowadays highly regulated. According to industry experts the cost involved in expanding our landfill site within the prescripts of the law would amount to roughly R35 million! This is clearly not a viable option for SM.
The only other legal and remotely affordable option is to cart our waste to a large regional Landfill site called Karwyderskraal near Botriver. However, this will not be cheap, and will certainly require higher than usual tariff adjustments for refuse. This may well be the only viable long-term solution.
In the meantime we also need to re-introduce some or other form of recycling in order to reduce the amount of waste that need to go to a landfill site. Probably the most serious challenge in this regard is the fact that China has stopped taking in recyclable materials which has plummeted prices to record lows worldwide. Far fewer people are now willing to get involved for purely economic reasons. However, getting some form of re-cycling off the ground remains an important aspect of the larger waste management picture.
I want to assure the public that we are making every effort to find practical, affordable, and sustainable solutions to all the challenges surrounding waste management. I invite everyone with constructive proposals to engage with my office, and to join the discussion on the best way forward. Lastly, I want to apologize for the terrible state of affairs at our landfill site, and give you my undertaking that we will leave no stone unturned in order to find proper solutions!