/ 29 June 2018

Interdict adds extra fuel to Wentworth residents’ ire

The Engen refinery in South Durban has gone to court to stop residents from protesting there.
Toxic environment: Wentworth in south Durban is right next to the Engen oil refinery. Community organisations want it to be permanently closed. Photo: Delwyn Verasamy

Wentworth residents who have been banned from protesting outside Engen’s Durban refinery by the high court have vowed to continue with their fight to force the petroleum giant to give their community contracts and shares in the company.

On Monday, acting judge Burt Laing granted an interim interdict banning Frank Alexander, Melanie Haines, Allen Holmes, Terrence Oglen and Brandon Manique — all members of the South Durban Basin Community Development Trust — from holding unauthorised protests at the refinery.

The five, who are liaison officers with the organisation, were ordered not to threaten or intimidate Engen staff members, suppliers and subcontractors. They were also barred from preventing trucks from leaving and entering the Tara Road refinery.

They have also been prevented by the court from inciting others to protest at the refinery, which was hit by five days of violent demonstrations over the past two months by residents demanding “reparations’’ from Engen, whose refinery has been operating on their doorstep for 60 years.

The protests culminated in a march on June 6, after which residents submitted a memorandum demanding that Engen open a clinic and a training centre, extend contracts to involve local businesses and employ more locals.

Residents are concerned that they will be excluded from the process surrounding the proposed sale of the refinery by majority shareholder Petronas, which controls 74% of the company.

In court papers, the acting general manager of the Engen refinery, Ernest Reid, said the demonstrations had become increasingly violent, with stun grenades being fired by police called in to break up unauthorised protests. He said petrol tankers had been stoned, and that tyres had been burned on the refinery perimeter adjacent to fuel storage areas.

Alexander told the Mail & Guardian this week that his organisation had been unable to engage a lawyer to fight the interdict, as they were only served with a notice for the application by Engen on Thursday.

“We … could therefore not rebut their accusations in court on Monday. We are doing so now, and are confident that when all the facts of the matter are in front of the court, it will rule in our favour,’’ he said.

Alexander said the freedom of movement of all five liaison officers had been curtailed by the court order, as the refinery was situated in the middle of the area where they live. Engen, he said, had acted in bad faith by agreeing to meetings, calling them off and then going to court.

“We live in this community but are not allowed near access points to the refinery. One of the applicants lives across the road from one of these. What is he meant to do?’’ he asked.

Alexander said they had started meeting other civil society organisations to get support for their cause.

“We are already talking to other progressive organisations, which understand our situation, to start networking and generating community support. We are talking to the churches and other structures about the issue,” he said.