Living under a cloud of toxic poison
Mariechen Waldner and Piet Rampedi
ANC youth leader Julius Malema is a business partner of Dr Christos Eleftheriades, the man at the helm of Thermopower Technologies.
Thermopower will face criminal prosecution in the Kempton Park Magistrates’ Court on Thursday for a range of environmental transgressions.
The carcinogenic content of its emissions at its Gauteng waste treatment facilities are just below nuclear level, according to consultants to the surrounding community.
Eleftheriades’s Medicare Process Technologies and Malema’s Blue Nightingale Trading 61 are partners in Tshumisano Waste Management, a consortium that won a lucrative contract for the removal and treatment of medical waste from Limpopo’s hospitals and clinics.
Blue Nightingale, of which Malema is the sole director, owns a 3% stake in Tshumisano.
Malema yesterday denied that he was Eleftheriades’s business partner, saying he did not even know who Thermopower or Medicare Process Technologies were.
The ANC Youth League boss said he never dealt with the members of the Tshumisano consortium because they won Limpopo’s multimillion waste removal tender in 2005 and he only bought his Blue Nightingale company a year later.
“I was never in that thing. I was never part of them,” he insisted yesterday.
A range of recently published scientific reports hold the company responsible for highly toxic dioxin emissions and warn that Pretoria’s water supply is vulnerable because of lax standards at Thermopower.
Thermopower last week told City Press that a range of air quality studies and emission reports were regularly submitted to the relevant authorities and that these did not indicate that the community was adversely affected.
Eleftheriades said that the Tshumisano consortium paid Blue Nightingale a monthly dividend of R136 000.
He said he never directly dealt with Malema or the representatives of the company because the consortium had tasked one of its directors, Dr Phetole Sekete, to liaise with Blue Nightingale.
“All I know is that it is made up of youths. Dr Sekete is the guy who said we needed local content and youths and I agreed,” he said. “I’ve been asked about Malema but I’ve never dealt with him directly.”
Sekete could not be reached for comment last night.
Malema said if Thermopower were taken to court for polluting the environment, so be it.
“They must take them to court if that is what they are doing. I do not know those people. I do not even know who Thermopower is. When you first asked me, I thought you were talking about energy things.”
He added that even Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, “who goes around saying ‘give me any file that has Julius’s name in it’ will never find a thing”.
The community of Olifantsfontein, which has been battling Eleftheriades and the odorous, toxic emissions from Thermopower for years, does not know Malema is in business with the man they hold responsible for their health problems.
Ironically, they approached the ANC youth leader to help them in their battle against Eleftheriades.
“He has not replied yet,” said community leader Kgomotso Modiselle.
The community is up in arms about the fumes that cause burning eyes, sore throats and respiratory problems.
Reports show that the affected in a 1.5km radius include: 200 agricultural workers, 1 000 scholars, 1 000 households of between three and five people, and 1 000 industrial workers.
Eleftheriades has applied for permission to extend his plant, a move opposed by the community.
He also has plans to truck in hazardous waste from KwaZulu-Natal after the decommissioning of the Guernica waste treatment plant in Durban.
The community want to stop this.
Residents are also wary of what they regard as an overfriendly relationship between Thermopower and the local ANC.
City Press is in possession of a grovelling letter written to Thermopower by ANC Andrew Mapheto Zone secretary Tshilidzi Munayi.
It reads: “With greatest humility, the Zonal Executive Committee of the African National Congress appreciate with much gratitude indeed for your company to avail its highest management to engage arising out of health-related issues raised by our community members from public meetings beings held Saturday, 7 of February 2009, Clayville Ext 27.”