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July Unrest Hearings: Action group, community slam govt and chemical company

Dec 03, 2021

By Annisa Essack

In the north of Durban, a community leader from the informal settlement of Blackburn near the UPL chemical factory in Durban says many people in the area are experiencing illnesses they’ve never had before.

“People, especially youth, are experiencing diseases they have never had. Many young people have burning eyes, chest problems and related symptoms. No doctor came to our village since this happened,” said Kwanele Msizazwe, the leader of Blackburn Village.

The spill came during the unrest after the factory was allegedly infiltrated and set alight. It led to a series of chemical spills, resulting in Durban beaches closing because water began changing colour.

He was speaking at the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) hearings into the July unrest on Thursday when he testified, along with the UPL Cornubia Fire Civil Society Action Group and its leader, Prof. Rajen Naidoo, a professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, an expert in occupational and environmental health matters.

Prof Naidoo spoke to Radio Islam International about the many issues the community members are facing and alleged that provincial and local government departments had done little to nothing to communicate with Blackburn Village residents and assist them with health concerns following the chemical spill.

He further alleged that the chemical company tried to push the narrative that they “had a diminished responsibility and saying it was the protest and looting that caused the incident”.

Naidoo said he formed the action group after it became evident that, while government agencies responded to the incident, “the engagement with local communities and civil society was not present”.

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