Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu conducted a site visit in Khayelitsha recently to assess the status of water and sanitation in the city. The visit came after community members blockaded roads demanding the City puts plans into action to fix the sewer drains. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane /African News Agency(ANA)
Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu conducted a site visit in Khayelitsha recently to assess the status of water and sanitation in the city. The visit came after community members blockaded roads demanding the City puts plans into action to fix the sewer drains. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane /African News Agency(ANA)

Residents endure sewage stench as elections approach

By Bulelwa Payi Time of article published Oct 10, 2021

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FACED with blocked drains and sewage flowing in the streets and in homes and forcing school closures, Khayelitsha residents have voiced their concerns over the health hazard.

Community leaders in Section B and C fear an outbreak of diseases and have blamed the City's "poor state of the reticulation infrastructure“.

One of the leaders, Sipho Mfulamde, said some households were forced to stop using their toilets in their homes to prevent them from overflowing.

Residents held a protest about three weeks ago to demand better living conditions in the township, established in 1985.

Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu conducted a site visit in Khayelitsha recently to assess the status of water and sanitation in the city. The visit came after community members blockaded roads demanding the City puts plans into action to fix the sewer drains. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane /African News Agency(ANA)

"Our patience had been tested to a point where we could no longer tolerate the conditions. Some schools had to send pupils home because of sewer spills. Even in the nearby Nonkqubela shopping centre the sewer pipes burst. It's just an intolerable situation," said Mfulamde.

Another leader, Isaac Mbadu, said after the protest the City sent workers to some affected areas to fix the pipes but the problem persisted in other areas.

Other areas that had experienced sewer problems included Dunoon, Witsand and Makhaza.

In KTC residents complained that it took three weeks for the City to collect waste in the Mshengu toilets.

"It was stinking all over the area and we were not told what the problem was, so we held a protest. It was only after the protest action that we received service delivery," said a resident who identified herself as Buyiswa.

Residents in Scottsdene had been experiencing water supply disruptions, prompting ward councillor Grant Twigg to submit a motion of exigence to sub-council 2 in which he called for an urgent strategy to address the situation.

He wrote: "In recent months the aged and underfunded water infrastructure system in Scottsdene was exposed as residents have experienced a continued disruption in water supply for hours, and even days due to bursting pipes".

Twigg said water and sanitation, an "essential municipal service", was often the subject of public complaints and could affect human and environmental health.

"It has become critical that an urgent strategy is drafted to strengthen, refurbish and maintain the City's bulk water supply system," said Twigg in the motion.

Mayco member for water and sanitation, Xanthea Limberg said the age of the sewerage infrastructure varied from "brand new" to more than 70 years old.

She said "a number" of the bulk sewers were more than 70 years in service and "still provide the service intended".

"Similarly the water network varies from newly laid pipes to those that have been in operation for more than 50 years. Various pipe materials were used between 50 and 100 years ago and are still performing satisfactorily," said Limberg .

Khayelitsha resident Sheila Maqwentshu cleaning sewage in front of her Educare centre which she had to close due to sewer blockages in the area. Residents from Site B took to the streets in September to protest over the sewage problems. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane /African News Agency(ANA)

However, she said the City had not carried out an exercise to determine how much it would cost to replace the entire network.

Limberg said pipes were "progressively" replaced as far as budgets allowed.

An assessment of service delivery in communities by an advocacy organisation, My Vote Counts, painted a bleak picture.

"The DA did not do well in places like Khayelitsha and Mitchells plain. Residents have been complaining about policies that are anti-poor, like installing water meters, criminalising people who stay in new informal settlements or homeless people in Greenpoint.

"We have also heard from communities like Bonteheuwel where they have resorted to fixing their own potholes as they have no faith in the municipality doing their job.

"The DA has failed to properly close manholes in some areas, leading to children falling inside. On the other hand, the DA has done well in the response to Covid-19 in the metro," said spokesperson Sheilan Clarke.

She said Mitchells Plain residents had been calling for the maintenance of infrastructure.

"The roads are neglected in that area, parks etcetera. Sewerage needs to be maintained. At the end of the day, municipalities should not skimp on doing their job and maintain infrastructure that is used on a daily basis by the communities they serve," added Clarke.

With residents set to go to the polls in three weeks, Clarke said the elections were significant as the municipal sphere dealt with the provision of basic services.

The recent auditor-general’s report showed that out of 257 municipalities in the country, only 27 received clean audits.

"That’s harrowing. Our local government is in crisis. The very institution that should see to it that we have clean water flowing through our taps and smooth tarred roads to travel on, are in tatters," added Clarke.

Water expert, Dr Jo Barnes, told the Weekend Argus recently that the spills, breakages and leakages occurring in the systems had become an escalating problem.

"Such intrusion of sewage into the environment and in some cases even into people’s homes, carry huge health risks. The very reason that untreated sewage needs to be removed from all areas where it can come into contact with people and animals is because it is a dangerous pollutant," said Barnes.

She said although the blame was often placed on people throwing inappropriate solid waste into the sewerage systems, causing blockages and spilling, the City had not "properly" taken into account the root cause of the behaviour.

"Poor solid waste removal is to blame for much of this behaviour," said Barnes.

Langa residents complained of service delivery in the area. Rubbish collection had not taken place as scheduled. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane /African News Agency(ANA)

Residents in Philippi's informal settlements where litter had become a feature of the landscape also blamed lack of public waste bins for blockages.They said residents had few options available to dispose of litter.

Barnes blamed "poor investment" over many decades in proper maintenance and replacement of ageing systems.

"Every year the pressure on the ageing systems increases as the population in the City expands and densifies, but the sewerage systems are not maintained or expanded to cope with this," she said.

Twigg urged the City to allocate "sufficient" budget for solutions.

Limberg also blamed "vandalism of pump stations" for the sewage overflows.

She said there were plans to invest R2.8 billion on capital infrastructure projects over in the following 10 years to reduce sewer blockages.

Regarding the water supply issue in Scottsdene, Limberg said maintenance staff were not able to reach the nearest valves that could isolate the burst without serious safety risks.

"The City believes this is creating perceptions that the water network has deteriorated recently. Despite threats to staff, the City remains committed to serving residents in the area to the best of our ability," she said.

University of Cape Town's Dr David Ikumi believes that there is room for improvement in service delivery relating to waste water and treatment systems.

He said it was also important to improve the skills of staff.

My Vote Counts called on voters to hold councillors to account over service delivery.

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