Row over remaining asbestos roofing hazard in eThekwini townships

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DURBAN – The remaining asbestos roofing across eThekwini townships has raised a stir amid accusations that some communities were still left in the hazardous housing environment.

While the old roofing system was no longer officially being used or produced due to health reasons, the government could not afford to replace all asbestos roofing in the province, the KwaZulu-Natal Human Settlements department has said.

Asked to comment on concerns by ActionSA about the continued existence of asbestos roofs over many families’ heads, specifically in eThekwini’s Ward 47, department spokesperson Mbulelo Baloyi agreed the asbestos had been deemed a health hazard.

The position of the government, he said, was that poor communities would be assisted with alternate forms of roofing, but this intervention was only made in cases of rectification of poorly built houses.

“The government cannot afford a wholesale replacement of all asbestos roofs which are littered across the many townships in the province (from Margate in the South Coast to eThekwini’s townships, eSikhaleni and Ngwelezane in Richards Bay, Ulundi, Nongoma in Zululand and Newcastle and Ladysmith to the west). But where there is a need to rectify a building, then on reconstruction, the government can assist with an alternate form of roof type other than asbestos,” said Baloyi.

Such rectification programmes would happen in instances whereby the National Home Builders Registration Council, a regulatory agency of the department, has identified poor or substandard workmanship in a housing project (in terms of the Home Building Manual).

“When houses are being rebuilt, it is then that an old asbestos roof will be replaced with a different type of material,” Baloyi said.

ActionSA said it would write to the South African Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Public Protector to highlight the ongoing concerns regarding residents’ exposure to structures containing asbestos in ward 47.

The party slammed eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda for his alleged failure to respond to concerns brought to his attention.

“ActionSA previously gave Mayor Kaunda seven days to respond to community calls for assistance regarding the dangers posed by the substance within their community. Within ward 47, multiple homes still contain asbestos within their structures, the selling and distribution of which was outlawed in South Africa in 2008,” said party KZN chairperson Dr Makhosi Khoza.

“Asbestos causes cancer and leads to respiratory related diseases. The Department of Human Settlement in eThekwini should have addressed this situation long ago – for the sake of the health and dignity of ward 47 residents. Most recently, Mayor Kaunda has elected to ignore all attempts to engage him on this life-threatening matter,” said Khoza.

Kaunda’s spokesperson, Mluleki Mntungwa, said Ward 47 (incorporating parts of KwaMashu and Bester townships) were among many areas to benefit from the city-wide “rectification” programme.

“There were criteria, steps and processes that were being followed in terms of this programme,” said Mntungwa.

THE MERCURY

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