With a complex mix of large scale industries and major transport networks, the South Durban Basin (SDB) residential area has been subjected to a considerable amount of environmental impacts and conflicts. A major concern in the area is the effects of air pollution on human health and ecology that are caused by the emissions of unacceptable levels of toxins, chemical waste and a large content of sulphur dioxide, which are characteristic of industrial processes and activities. Perceptions regarding environmental conflicts in the area were recorded by eliciting residents’ concerns. Fieldwork in the form of questionnaires was undertaken. These were administered to 200 households in Merebank and Wentworth in the SDB to determine residents’ knowledge, perceptions and concerns about industrial activities and potential impacts. This paper therefore explores residents’ perceptions of environmental impacts and highlights the key issues which contribute to community conflicts – including those conflicts related to government, employment, race and community health. * Jyoti Jaggernath is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
The Durban Metro Council stipulates that the South Durban Basin (SDB) is environmentally degraded, and experiences high levels of air pollution and waste disposal problems, and that the problems are additionally compounded by the loss of important natural resources (KMT Enterprises 2004). The SDB was a thriving market garden area until 1938, after which the Durban City Council decided that the area be developed into an industrial zone with the Black residential area providing the workforce (Peek 2002). According to Peek (2002), the SDB is seen as an industrial hub which fences two major petrochemical refineries, several hazardous waste dumps, fibre plants, the Mondi paper mill, hazardous chemical storage facilities, a major airport and more than 150 industries which are dependent on crude oil. Once separated along racial lines, as a result of discrimination policies of the past (Sivest 2004), the SDB has a total residential population of approximately 400 000 (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research 2002). Prior to the draining of the area for industrial development and the airport construction, the area was swampy land at or near sea level. Poverty in the SDB is relatively high with 52% of the adult population not economically active and 79% of those who are economically active earning less than R15 000 per annum (SRK Consulting 2004). The area is susceptible to low cost housing and informal settlements that develop around industrial areas such as those surrounding Clairwood and the airport (Sivest 2004). Scott and Ridsdale (1997) assert that the SDB is a locality where the status of the social environment is a product of the interaction between individual and group capacities and macro-scale economic, political and cultural aspects. These Black residential areas of the apartheid era were traditionally situated in close proximity to, adjacent to and sometimes in industrial zones. Consequent to this situation, the quality of life of the people has been severely impacted upon due to frequent environmental problems that result from industrial activities in these areas. These communities have been forced to endure and continue to endure socio-economic and environmental conditions that impact negatively on their health and wellbeing. Due to the close proximity of the residential area, which lies adjacent to the industrial area, the residents of Merebank are discontented about environmental pollution. The three large plants located in Merebank are an Engen refinery,
Environmental conflicts in the South Durban Basin
a Mondi paper mill and a Sasol fibres plant. The Mondi and...