Company "unlawfully and intentionally disposed of building and demolition waste, whilst not being in possession of a waste-management license".
A few kilometres north of the plush suburbs of Cape Town, the farming community of Philippi produces 100 000 tonnes of fresh produce a year. A natural wetland used to regulate the area's ecosystem, but illegal dumping, allegedly by a company called Ross Demolition, has blocked the waterland's exits.
When the winter rains came this year, it led to area-wide flooding. Food gardens and live animals died in the deluge, and knee-high water in homes forced people to move elsewhere.
Ross Demolition's website says it is "one of the biggest and most well-known demolition and earth-moving companies in Africa today". It also says 98% of its rubble is recycled. But the department of water affairs, through the National Prosecuting Authority, is charging the company with two cases of illegal dumping, in Philippi and just down the road in Mfuleni.
The main charge is that the company "unlawfully and intentionally disposed of building and demolition waste, whilst not being in possession of a waste-management license".
The company was issued with a compliance notice, meaning that it had to remedy the problem, and when it was ignored, a directive to cease operations. This was also apparently ignored. The 10 charges come to a combined maximum of R51-million, or 76 years in prison.
Robert Ross, its managing director, is also being charged in his personal capacity because he -"personally bore knowledge of the transgressions". The charge sheet also says he failed to co-operate with subsequent attempts by the involved departments to remedy the problem.
After the story was published in the <em>Mail & Guardian</em> last week, several groups came forward to say that they had the same problem with Ross Demolition. Robert Ross indicated that he wanted to speak last week, but has since been unavailable, with his office saying he was either out of the country, "on the road" or in meetings.
The Philippi Horticultural Area, an organisation of local farmers in an area that produces 100?000 tonnes of food for the city annually, also claims that "tonnes of clay" are being dumped by Ross on the roadside, which is slipping into their arable land. Everyone the <em>M&G</em> spoke to in the area said light and dark green trucks were doing the dumping and all blamed Ross Demolition. This is the hue of Ross trucks.
The same is apparently happening across the mountains in the more affluent suburb of Noordhoek. Glenn Ashton, a member of the Noordhoek Environmental Action Group, said an old salt mine had been sold to Ross without being properly rehabilitated. Part of it was used to build a housing estate, while the hole was kept as a dumpsite.
"Now the dumpsite is full and the material being dumped there is not suitable for the area. Only clean fill was meant to be used, but dirty rubble with things like plastic has been dumped," he said. The dump was continually expanding and had now risen higher than the surroundings.
Rory Sales, another resident of Noordhoek, is pursuing legal action against another company owned by Ross for dumping on a plot in the community that is zoned for agriculture. Building material from construction sites in and around the area was being dumped, he said.
Similar accusations of illegal dumping were made by the Observatory River Club, for dumping sand in the Liesbeek River. Ismael Ebrahim, a resident of Athlone, also said the company had been dumping on a plot next to his home that was not a formal dump.
The <em>M&G</em> understands that further charges could be added based on this widespread dumping.