Africa’s Biggest Landfill Site: The Case Of Bisasar Road

Published on ZNet (Source: Le Monde Diplomatique), by Patrick Bond and Khadija Sharife, April 29, 2012.

… In April 2010 there was a long debate about the merits of constructing the world’s fourth-largest coal-fired energy facility. Following this, officials from Eskom — South Africa’s biggest electricity provider — proposed the Medupi power plant as a potential CDM project. But by early 2012 it had not been taken to formal application stage. (In 2009 an attempt by Sasol to claim that a gas pipeline investment was ‘additional’ to pre-existing plans, so deserving emissions reductions credits, had been ridiculed by the Johannesburg activist group Earthlife Africa, based on an admission by a company official, and did not pass muster in the UN vetting process).  

But the most controversial CDM project is the country’s leading pilot: a methane-electricity conversion at Bisasar Road dump in Durban’s Clare Estate residential neighborhood, celebrated by everyone in power from the municipality to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

For John Parkin, deputy head of the engineering at the municipal agency Durban Solid Waste, “What makes (the Bisasar Road CDM project) worthwhile is the revenue that can be earned from carbon credits, estimated at 3.1 million certified emissions reduction credits, worth about $15 million, along with some 6-8 megaWatts of electricity over a 20 year lifespan.” In late 2006, the French Development Agency pledged long-term loans of $8 million to Durban’s landfill gas projects (Bisasar is by far the largest of three), alongside $1.3 million extended by South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry.

Bisasar Road, Africa’s largest and one of three fully permitted landfill sites in Durban, was opened for business in 1980 by the apartheid regime. The Group Areas Act, a crucial pillar of the apartheid government’s segregation agenda, meant that Bisasar Road would ‘import’ waste from privileged white areas to impoverished, working-class black areas deprived of basic human rights. Bisasar was emblematic of 4,000 disposal dumps created across the country (of which, as the government acknowledged, only 200 met minimum environmental standards). Residents of Clare Estate — classified as an ‘Indian’ and ‘coloured’ area but with a large African settlement — lacked access to political, economic and legal recourse. Their attempts at mobilising dissent against the regime were ignored, although the African National Congress pledged in 1994 that the new democratic municipal government would close the racist dump.

Despite opposition to the dump from residents, and government promises to close and rehabilitate it, Durban Solid Waste supported its continued use. Two other sites — in wealthy Umhlanga and impoverished Umlazi township — were shut instead. Described by the municipality as “favourably placed with respect to central Durban, close to a major artery connecting the city to the west, north and south,” the dump processes 3,000 to 5,000 tonnes of waste daily. In spite of vehement calls for closure, and respiratory problems in the community, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry extended the landfill’s life cycle in 1996.

Although the permit issued was for general waste only, the site’s operators were “granted a permit without a buffer zone”. Hosting 19 million cubic metres of waste, the dump was described by Carl Albrecht, research director of the Cancer Association of South Africa, as a toxic ‘cancer hotspot’ where residents “are like animals involved in a biological experiment.”

Bisasar has a further four million ‘available’ cubic metres of fully permitted landfill space before critical mass is reached, hence there is potentially another decade and a half of dumping in the black neighbourhood.

Sadija Khan’s fight: … //

… We were used:

The leader of Abahlali base, Mjondolo, S’bu Zikode, later argued that Durban municipal officials manipulated these socio-racial divisions: “We were used. They even offered us free busses to protest in favour of this project … to damage those who oppose this project.” The promised jobs and bursaries that justified the group’s earlier support for the CDM never materialized. The leading KwaZulu-Natal based environmental NGO, groundWork, argued against the municipality’s divide-and-conquer politics in a 2008 report, Wasting the Nation: Making trash of People and Nations:

“Closing down illegal picking was not possible without their cooperation. But in return for that cooperation they wanted to secure the recycling and site cleaning jobs exclusively for people from Kennedy Road and take over the labour-broking contract with DSW for site cleaners. There are not, in fact, many of these jobs left at Bisasar Road. The commercial recyclers employ 15 people on piece rates at the recycling pad established by DSW, while there are 25 people employed as site cleaners.”

In spite of its environmentally racist past and present, Newcombe declared Bisasar to be “operated and maintained on a world-class level.” Sajida Khan replied: “Unlike me, he does not live across the road from Bisasar.”

Khan argued: “The community would not have: marched and demonstrated; blocked the entrance to the site; handed a petition with 600 signatures to the mayor; written press articles and voiced our dismay on national television if we had accepted the Bisasar dumpsite.” The World Bank was apparently intimidated, and it pulled out of the Bisasar Road project, although two other much smaller methane-electricity CDM projects were funded at the same time. But by July 2007, having been twice struck by the cancer she believed came from particulates that floated across the road into her life-long home, Khan had died.

Was the CDM necessary? … (full long text).

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