South Durban Communities Still In The Dark About Engen’s Accountability

Three months after a massive explosion at Engen in Wentworth, surrounding communities have still not had feedback from the petrochemical giant regarding their accountability to the situation, and inclusion of the community in safety matters.

Considering the potential environmental and health risk hazards posed by Engen, genuine engagement and communication between industries, government, and local communities are important.

Wentworth and Merebank have suffered from refinery pollution for decades owing to carcinogens and respiratory irritants such as benzene and sulfur dioxide produced during oil processing. Malaysian-owned Engen is one of the worst neighboring petrochemical factories. Desmond D’Sa who founded the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), said that since the incident there have been no apologies to the community, and decisions are always made behind closed doors”

Quincy Fynn, business owner, said; “We are sitting on a time bomb.

Considering the potential environmental and health risk hazards posed by Engen, genuine engagement and communication between industries, government and local communities is important”

Zane Scullard said; ” Members of the Merebank and Wentworth communities affected by Engen generally distrust their scientific expertise. This is because Engen did not share key environmental information such as pollution emission levels, and did not engage local communities and civil society in decision making regarding safety protocols”

This has blocked the process of mutual learning and deliberation to information regarding scientific knowledge. It has also perpetuated a lack of trust from the community towards Engen.

Many research projects and policy documents argue that the best way to get public trust is to open industrial developments and environmental risk assessments to greater public involvement and scrutiny. Researchers believe that if more voices and perspectives are included, their impact won’t be perceived as biased.

Frank Alexander, Resident, Trade Unionist, Community Activist, And Trustee of South Durban Basin Community Development Trust, stated; “This was the first public meeting since the explosion and as activists in the Durban South Basin we wanted to give feedback since the memorandum was handed over. Also as you recall the Parliamentary portfolio committee also visited the Refinery and engaged with Community Leadership at Fairvale Secondary.

The idea was also to listen to community concerns since the incident so that we take a mandate going forward.

Ours is not to dictate to the community but to be sensitive to all views and opinions expressed. The community also wanted certainty on the future of Engen.

Whether they gonna remain a Refinery or storage facility as they mentioned in previous press releases and that whatever happens there must be community participation and accountability

The matter does not just affect Wentworth per se.

Bluff, Merebank, Treasure Beach, Fynnland, Jacobs Hostel (Fenceline).

Hence we use the Term “Durban South Basin” as opposed to just Wentworth.

Community concerns centered around the absence of the Disaster plan. Whilst Engen has a safety plan for such incidents inside the walls of the refinery the community to this day does not have a safety plan on events for such incidents as happened on 4 December 2020 (explosion).

Continued oils spill of the Engen trucks that get parked in Lansdowne Road, Basil February as well as Tara road”.

Unfortunately, issues of transparency and communication between Engen and the community continue to be a challenge in South Durban. The actual status of air quality in the area is currently unknown. 

Risk communication by Engen and the South Durban community should be viewed as a process for mutual learning and deliberation to information about scientific knowledge. If different knowledge systems aren’t integrated, the industry will continue to create environmental risks and pose social and environmental hazards.

By: Lorraine Richards

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