South Durban is a classic example of environmental racism owing to legacies from Apartheid, during which blacks and south Asians were forced to move to South Durban as cheap labor for oil, paper, and chemical industries. Mondi Paper Company, a paper mill owned by Anglo American, is the third worst local polluter, and has long been opposed by the community for its multifuel boiler/incinerator’s emissions contributing to high incidences of asthma and cancer .
Protesting Mondi began as early as 1997 against its illegal landfill, where it was dumping toxic ash from its incinerator that leaked into the broader environment and affected nearby residents. The local provincial office continuously delayed any legal action against Mondi. As such, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) pushed the Minister to act, asking if “the provincial office would have shown this much tolerance if the waste site had been established in upper-class white areas” . Mondi, however, continued dumping and brushed off concerns that the ash was hazardous the the environment and human health. Residents thus conducted their own investigations that they published in August 1997, finding that the boiler ash contained heavy metals, selenium, chromium, cadmium, and arsenic, refuting Mondi’s studies that the ash was safe. Yet a year later in August 1998, the provincial office was still stalling action against Mondi. Subsequently, the SDCEA heavily campaigned for cleaner technology, also insisting that Mondi does not simply relocate the incinerator and its landfill to another poor neighborhood but rather address the environmental injustices themselves . In 2001, residents demanded an outside health expert be brought in to assess the air quality and determine the effects of the proposed multi-fuel boiler. Requests were made directly to the company as well as through numerous media outlets, but neither Mondi nor the regulatory boards hired outside experts .
In September 2002, Mondi was granted a permit to build a new multifuel combuster for its incinerator .On November 19, 2002, the SDCEA, the Legal Resources Center, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, the Merebank Residents' Association, and other local supporters, in addition to a mass public movement and media campaign, protested outside the Mondi plant’s gates in support of a legal appeal revoking the permit . The appeal was both an attempt to use legislative provisions to block Mondi's plans as well as a rallying measure for community action, although there was some local support for Mondi because the paper mill provided jobs and incomes for many South Durban residents . The protesters also argued against further air pollution and the plant’s use of outdated “dirty” technology .
According to the SDCEA leader Desmond D’Sa, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs awarded the permit without a proper environmental impact assessment and thus did not take into account health concerns or environmental regulations . As part of the Legal Resources Center’s court case, a 35-page appeal document compiled by Pole and Andrews and technical advisor Dr. Eugene Cairncross of Cape Town's Peninsula Technikon, suggests that approval of the Mondi burner “would be a retrogressive step that would perpetuate the existing high levels of industrial air pollution in South Durban” . John Ratcliff, Mondi’s Operations Services Manager, received a memorandum from the protesters condemning the company’s failure to analyze and account for the environmental consequences of its technologies. However, the company responded that the multifuel boiler would would be able to burn all biomass generated during the papermaking process and that waste disposal to landfill would be reduced by almost 75 percent .
In 2004, groundWork submitted an appeal against the company, calling for mass international protest. The SDCEA organized community meetings, circulated a petition against the incinerator with over 5,000 signatures, and continued to make public appeals to both the company and to the Kwa-Zulu Natal province's Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs . In 2005, the SDCEA began organizing "toxic tours" and invited the international community to bear witness to the environmental impact of Mondi and others in South Durban . Despite the efforts of community organizations and support from several international organizations, Mondi finished building the new boiler in 2006 and is still operating today, though has recently suffered bad press from the court ruling that it may no longer continue withholding pay from workers during the coronavirus [4, 7].