South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
4 November 2003
KZN Environmental Department invokes apartheid law to avoid releasing risks of new toxic chemical tanks
The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) is disgusted that the KZN Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs has involved two apartheid laws to block communities from accessing information related to a major new hazardous installation.
These are the Protection of Information Act of 1984 and the National Key Points Act of 1980, both introduced at the height of apartheid!
The Freedom of Expression Institute has advised that if these laws were challenged in court, they would never survive constitutional scrutiny. They were supposed to have been repealed and furthermore, have been superceded by the new Promotion of Access to Information Act and the access to information clauses in South Africa’s constitution.
The government’s devious choice of selectively applying apartheid laws when it suits their interests, or the interests of big business and multinationals, could lead to a major environmental disaster in this case.The Dutch public company, Vopak, proposes to build four massive storage tanks for toxic chemicals adjacent to a poor community. The chemicals are acrylonitrile, propylene oxide, and vinyl acetate.
If the chemicals combust, massive toxic clouds of hydrogen cyanide would flood South Durban as well as the inner city adjacent to the harbour.
There have been already been several accidents, oil spills of thousands of litres into the harbour and explosions injuring workers in this very same National Key Point, including a 25 000 litre leak of liquid lead last year and the collapse of the Engen storage tank roof last week.
Despite the major hazard posed to the community by this impending secret construction, the KZN Department of Environment informed SDCEA just minutes ago that they will not provide communities with the Human Health Risk Assessment related to the new tanks. (The Risk Assessment is a scientific estimation of the risks and dangers involved with a Major Hazardous Installation which communities are supposed to interrogate and use as the basis of any decision to reject or accept a hazard into the community).
Instead, government has announced that they will rule on the expansion without the input of communities. The Department is acting unlawfully since the risk assessment is also supposed to be available at the Department of Labour for communities and unions to peruse.
It is also an abuse of the very law they are invoking since SDCEA has not asked for aerial photographs or anything material to the safety of the complex. The document showing what the risk is to the communities, is clearly totally unrelated to information which could be used for sabotage.
SDCEA also demands an end to the criminalization of the poor. One of the consultants profiting out of this expansion already informed SDCEA that since Greenpeace was here during the WSSD and dared to hang a banner on a bridge next to a refinery, we have basically forfeited our right as communities to information through bad behaviour.
The government should look forward to mass action in South Durban if they do not immediately repeal all apartheid censorship laws, and end their collusion with multinationals who put profits before people.
For comment call Desmond D’Sa on 031 4611991 or 083 9826939