Communities hit by UPL warehouse fire call for accountability
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DURBAN - COMMUNITIES affected by the United Phosphorus Limited (UPL) warehouse in Cornubia, north of Durban, have called for accountability while NGOs called for a seat at the decision-making table.
The UPL was set alight in July by a mob during the unrest in Durban. The chemicals caused air pollution, damaged the eco-system and polluted the Ohlanga River, the Umhlanga lagoon and beaches north of Durban.
During a meeting at the weekend the UPL Cornubia Fire Civil Society Action Group demanded answers. Present was Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (Edtea) MEC Ravi Pillay, Joint Operations Committee chairperson Sabelo Ngcobo and others. UPL and the eThekwini Municipality did not attend.
Speaking on behalf of the Izinga community, Jeffery Naidoo said information was lacking from government departments.
Naidoo demanded UPL be held accountable and wanted a list of the chemicals stored at the warehouse. “How did they get permits to get so close to a residential area?” he asked.
Prestondale and uMhlanga Crest representative Anton Muller said there was a massive failure and they were let down in a massive way. “If there was animal feed in that store as we were told, there would not have been a disaster like this,” Muller said.
“If we don’t have any accountability in this democracy, we will not be able to defend it, it’s not possible.”
Warren Horsley, from the Mount Edgecombe community, said: “We need truthful answers. Will there be long term effects to our health?”
Phoenix community activist Theo Pillay said the culprits needed to be outed and pay the price. “What you did was disgusting, putting a building right here in our townships, Phoenix, uMhlanga, Blackburn, you shouldn’t have done that in the first place.”
Desmond D’Sa from the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance said: “It’s horrendous that the company’s officials, their spokespeople, lawyers or specialists were saying ‘there’s nothing wrong’.”
“Nobody came out in the first few days to notify the public – not the company, nor those responsible at local government level. We need government to involve us, to work together, so such an incident never happens again… ”
Professor Tracy-Lynn Field, chair of the Environmental Rights Centre at Wits University, had three messages – UPL Cornubia Fire Civil Society Action Group is not politicised; civil society must be at the decision-making table; and chaotic, economic mal-development must stop.