Seeking justice after fiery nightmare

Lawyers are preparing legal action against an oil processing company accused of improperly dumping waste that allegedly led to the death of one child and caused injuries to another two.

Further, leaders of Johane Masowe weChishanu Church have called for enforcement of anti-dumpsite laws after 12-year-old congregant, Gladys Chihuri, succumbed to severe burns from sinking in hot ash dunes in Chitungwiza’s Zengeza 5.

Two other children, Thumelo Kadangu (9) and Takunda Nyamayaro (12), sustained severe burns when they separately fell in the dunes around the same time Gladys did.

Gladys sank waist deep into hot ash on October 22, 2017 at a dumpsite used by the oil processing company. She died last week and was buried on Wednesday.

Ms Hazel Makonese of Khuphe and Chijara Law Chambers said she had instructions to represent victims.

She said the law guaranteed the right to a healthy environment.

“So when children are harmed there are measures which have to be taken and this is where we come in. There are specific provisions in the Environmental Management Act and those principles have to be followed.

“Environment issues go beyond compensation but to ensure accountability and responsibility from corporates and industry. So we are currently doing the necessary groundwork to build the case,” she said.

On October 22 last year, Gladys and her brother Simba walked together to church, using a path that cuts through the dumpsite.

Her father, Mr Witness Chihuri said, “They always used the road. As children they didn’t know that the path had hot ashes . ..  And it was strewn all over the place. So because they are used to just walking through the path they didn’t think it would burn them.

“She was wearing slippers and when she got to the middle of the path she was burnt on the feet. When she tried to reach for the ground her hands and waist all the way down were burnt as she began to sink in the ash dunes.”

Simba was behind her when this happened and he immediately called out for help.

A resident of a settlement near the dumpsite says he saw a man using a long stick to help her, encouraging Gladys to grab hold of it as he pulled the child out.

Since October 22, 2017, Gladys had been at Harare Hospital after being referred there from Chitungwiza Hospital.

The oil processing company has said the land in question belongs to Chitungwiza Town Council and the local authority is responsible for its management.

The Chihuri’s have incurred costs that they estimate at up to US$15 000 in the battle to save Gladys’ life.

Mrs Chihuri said she did not want to apportion blame, but was aggrieved that not one official from Chitungwiza Town Council or the oil processing company lent them a hand or even visited her daughter during her hospital stay.

Co-leader of the Johane Masowe weChishanu Africa Mr Johane Chinomona said, “We are pleading that they fence the area so that even children who cannot read signs won’t be able to reach there. Right now visitors who come into the area can use the same paths to get to their destinations not knowing there is hot ash under the surface.

“We are asking for Government to intervene because at dumpsites you find people scrounging for stuff that they can sell. If they sink in the ash they are definitely dying.”

His co-leader, Mr Arnold Makore, added that companies should properly dispose of waste.

Mr Chihuri spoke of his daughter’s last days.

“In recent times the burns showed signs of healing but we didn’t know she had seriously been hurt internally. She was beginning to stand and sit on her own.

“All seemed well such that the day before she died she was eating and I talked to her as she told me what she wanted. I did not know that she was just keeping us company for a while.”

He said post mortem results confirmed the burns were severe and revealed that blood had clotted in the chest.

Tawanda Nyamayaro scratches his leg as he feels the discomfort of the burns sustained at the dumpsite
Tawanda Nyamayaro scratches his leg as he feels the discomfort of the burns sustained at the dumpsite

In Unit D, 12-year-old Takunda Nyamayaro stepped on the hot ash dunes a day before Gladys did.

His mother, Mrs Choice Mutongorega, said her son was hospitalised for a little over a month.

“His friend helped by pulling his clothes so that he could not sink. He is ever scratching and the skin is reddish. He can no longer walk long distances or carry heavy stuff. Even 10kg of mealie-meal, he can’t carry that anymore. It’s painful to take care of a child and then he or she suffers such a predicament.”

She said Takunda now insisted on wearing long clothing because he feared people would laugh at his scars.

His father, Mr George Nyamayaro, said was hopeful justice would be done.

On October 18, 2017, Thumelo Kadangu also encountered the fiery hell as she too cut across the dumpsite.

Her grandmother, Mrs Eunice Kadangu, said: “There are times she scratches a lot and feels pain.

We then use salt and warm water to rub on the ankle so that she feels some comfort. Because of those burns she no-longer wears closed shoes.”

Last week, The Sunday Mail Society visited the dumpsite and saw the hot ash dunes. Throwing a stone into one triggered a release of smoke, indicating combustion was taking place and possibly pointing to improper disposal of the waste.

People settled around the dump mix the hot ash with sand to make bricks.

Environmental Management Agency spokesperson Mr Steady Kangata said it was possible the ashes were not completely doused, and dumping them on other waste resulted in gas combustion.

He said the Environmental Management Act outlawed use of dumpsites in 2012, directing firms to instead use landfills.

“Statutory Instrument 6 of 2007 gave local authorities and industries five years to move from dumpsites to landfill sites. It is also a requirement for companies to pre-treat their waste before it’s dumped.

“Landfills are properly layered so as not to affect underground water. You compact your waste and put a layer of soil. Most councils, like Chitungwiza, have not migrated to proper landfills. These are no-go areas; hence they should be fenced off,” he said.

Chitungwiza resident Mr Shame Kanyandura said the oil processor should take responsibility.

“As a company they are supposed to have a heart for the people that when there are reports that a person has been burnt on their dumping site they should not deny responsibility because the residues are theirs.

“So we thought that they would be apologetic. But since the accident happened it looks like the company hasn’t reformed. They are not doing anything about the place. If there is no action more deaths will definitely occur.”

An official from the oil processor disconnected the call when questions were posed to him.

Thereafter he would not pick our calls.

Guardians and parents of the victims said doctors had not ascertained if any toxic chemical had contributed to the severity of the burns.

Dr Patrick Dhliwayo, clinical director at Chitungwiza General Hospital, where two of the children were treated, said he could only provide us with a medical report on the back of a court order.

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