Dumped on

Here’s a dab of complex politics for you. First, the set up, from a recent article by my comrade Patrick Bond available in its entirety here

In South Africa, the World Bank’s primary emissions trading pilot is the controversial Bisaser Road dump in Durban’s Clare Estate neighbourhood.

The dump emits methane, which can be captured and turned into small amounts of electricity to augment the eThekwini metro’s supply. But the electricity produced costs more than double the rate that Eskom charges, so the project is not economically feasible without World Bank subsidies.

Carl Albrecht, research director at the Cancer Association of South Africa, likens Clare Estate residents to “animals involved in a biological experiment”. According to cancer victim Sajida Khan, 70% of neighbouring households have tumour cases, not to mention severe respiratory problems.

However, eThekwini intends making money off the dump when a $25-million World Bank investment begins this year. By not factoring in Khan and her community’s health crisis, the Bank termed the dump “environmentally friendly” in 2002. Because of past broken promises, Khan does not believe the metro council’s vaguely worded November 2004 decision to close the facility.

The dump is a toxic nightmare, and none know this better than the poor African families who live right on top of it in a squatter settlement. Their children fall ill, they are malnourished, water-borne diseases are rife. Yet they are also the most passionate advocates of the dump because, among other things, the dump gives them jobs, and no one else will. Mostly, they’re used to being lied to.

The council, as recently as two weeks ago, promised that the squatter community would get land nearby. Then the bulldozers came in, and started building a brick factory on their promised land. So the community defended their ground. The police laid into them, injuring many. Fourteen young people were rounded up, and are now in holding cells. At least two of these people are under 16, and two are mothers. I know this because today I went to Bisaser Road, and took pictures of their children, as part of an effort to free them. More on this tomorrow, when there’s an article to accompany the photos. Lesson for the moment is, however, that while it’s important to slam the dump, it’s important to fight for those who depend on it.