Families on dumps risk health


Poverty renders parents unable to fulfill the legal and constitutional obligations towards children’s well-being

HOMELESS people are risking their health by building makeshift homes in dump sites. Health officials are particularly worried that the children of these families
will be exposed to the toxic waste that is dumped at these landfills.

The New Age visited the Blue Crane municipality dumping site in Somerset West to learn more about the lives of those living on the site. “I have stayed here for seven years.

We had two of our homes burnt down with all our documentation in them,” said Cristen Daniels, a weary elderly woman who has settled at the dumping site.
“I was left by my parents many years ago.

I now have no brothers or sisters.Things just got worse and worse and eventually I found myself here. I have really been struggling,” said Eric Bambiso, another desperate resident who has made the site his home. The youngest resident of the dump is just four months old.

Lapland is an informal settlement in Gauteng that shows that the situation in Somerset East isn’t foreign to big cities or richer provinces. The informal settlement
just outside Eldorado Park arose out of the Goud Koppies dumping site and is another unsafe and unsanitary place in which people are forced by their circumstances to live.

“Families have moved there to earn money from recycling rubbish. They are unable to afford proper housing but the dump site provides them with waste materials to build makeshift shacks,” said Gerbrandt van Heeren, a researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations. Similar to the case of Goud Koppies, the informal settlement of Spruit near Centurion, Tshwane sprouted from the Mooiplaats dump, where people go to make money from recycling.

Vote Ngombe, who makes his living from recycling, goes to the site with his wife, who carries their infant child on her back as they work. “We recycle rubber, plastic, cardboard boxes and bottles. We work well, the cars come and deliver the rubbish,” Ngombe said.

Twenty-year-old Agentsi Kwensi, who arrived at Spruit three months ago from Chipinge, Zimbabwe said he didn’t have money to go to school. He collects and recycles rubbish and earns approximately R400 for two weeks worth of work if he works from 7am to 5pm every day..

“I came here from Zimbabwe, because in Zimbabwe there is no money,” said a frail-looking Tafadzwa Sithole. She says that after selling her recyclable materials she sends her money to Zimbabwe, but that because of her age she can only muster the strength to make R100 daily. “My family is in Zimbabwe, I am alone and send money to my child in Zimbabwe,” she said, describing the difficulty of working in another country.

The fact that children and families are forced to call these dumps home is particularly alarming, since living on a dumping site is likely to have serious medical consequences even for healthy adults. Furthermore, children lacking formal addresses and proof of residence may face serious barriers when it comes to education and enrolling in school.

The conditions in which the residents are forced to live is unconstitutional and contravenes the Children’s Act of 2005 in particular. The act establishes the right of children to adequate care, a suitable place to live, living conditions that are conducive to the child’s health, well-being and development, and necessary financial support.

“It’s not recommended especially to have youngsters in these kinds of environments. It could seriously affect their growth prospects, it could seriously affect their well-being and could later cause major problems for them in their adult lives,” Van Heerden said.

“If it’s not illegal yet, it should be illegal and this situation of having children living on dump sites should provide greater incentive to take legal action.”

However, in most instances, the parents of these children are unable to provide the support to which their children are entitled, because they are simply unable to provide adequate housing and finances for themselves.

Van Heerden said he believes that people who stay in unsanitary and dangerous settlements should be moved to places fit for human habitation but admits that foreign nationals would have a tougher time as they would be required to have proper documentation and would not be entitled to government grants or state-sponsored housing.

Although these living conditions are already rendered illegal by both the Constitution and the Children’s Act, enforcing these laws would likely be immoral, since many of those living in unsuitable conditions are forced there by circumstances.