Since the start of the pandemic, South Africa has seen a significant increase in the volumes of medical waste and discarded personal protective equipment (PPE). While most parts of the country receive an adequate waste management service to discard medical waste and used PPE, some towns and communities are afflicted with piles of this waste stream from illegal dumping.
“This is an unfortunate circumstance that affects both the natural ecosystem and the health of residents,” says Moudy Mudzielwana, founding director at Tshikovha Green and Climate Change Advocates. “It is the rural communities that are affected the most, as residents do not have as frequent access to waste infrastructure and collection services.”
Speaking ahead of World Environment Day 2021 Moudy Mudzielwana of Tshikovha reiterates the importance behind the theme for 2021 which is to ‘restore our ecosystems’. Ecosystem restoration is a global environmental challenge. It means repairing billions of hectares of natural landscape, so that people have access to food, clean water and jobs. This is a challenge that is very much prevalent in South Africa.
Locally, Tshikovha Green and Climate Change Advocates is currently working with communities within the Emalahleni Municipality in Mpumalanga that have been affected by severely degraded environments from illegal dumping, and the ongoing mining operations. “Post Covid-19 lockdown, we organised a clean-up campaign in Phola, Ogies in Emalahleni. Our objective was to clean up areas that have become illegal dump sites, while educating local residents on the importance of recycling and waste management,” says Mudzielwana.
Over the years, the natural landscape in Emalahleni has become severely disturbed from mining. There are almost 69 mines operating within the area totalling to approximately 3000 hectares of disturbed biodiversity or natural environment. “Our efforts were guided by the need for reinforcing the status quo of the natural environment in the area. Along with our waste clean-up efforts, we are promoting the planting of indigenous trees in affected areas in order to restore the local ecosystem,” says Mudzielwana.
World Environment Day has been celebrated every year, engaging governments, businesses and citizens in an effort to address these pressing environmental issues. “Our focus is on our local environment and local communities who are adversely impacted by illegal dumps and pollution,” says Mudzielwana. “A clean environment that is not harmful to your health or wellbeing, and to have the environment protected for future generations is your constitutional right. Therefore, not only do we aim to protect and restore impacted ecosystems, we also aim at creating awareness so that residents can take action to protect their own constitutional rights,” adds Mudzielwana.
“We would like to encourage more mining houses, organisations and individuals to make investment for trees, waste bins, and education materials for the greater awareness programme in Emalahleni Municipality,” concludes Mudzielwana.