‘People are living in the most horific conditions’

The canals which are filled with sludge.

The filthy canals of Masiphumelele remain a sore point and health risk for residents even while the City of Cape Town says it is cleaning up.

Much attention was drawn to the unhygienic conditions in Masiphumelele in February this year with a directive being issued by Dr Eshaam Palmer, director of Environmental Law Enforcement who commented on the significant pollution and degradation to the environment.

The directive said the conditions constituted a significant danger to the health and well-being of Masiphumelele residents.

The issue has been raised again with voices from the community calling for more action to be taken (“Support abounds for Masi upgrades”, Echo, April 20).

Masiphumelele neighbour, Rosemary Millbank, claims that the situation is no better nearly three months later, and is still calling for the area to be evacuated for health reasons. She is decrying the abuse of human rights and dignity.

“People are living in the most horrific conditions – it becomes worse every day.

When, not if, we have the next huge fire and when, not if, we have flooding because of blocked canals, we will have many deaths because people will not be able to escape,” she said.

In his correspondence on the matter Paul Hoffman, director of Accountability Now, said it was irrational to tolerate a seriously overcrowded and unhealthy slum adjacent to so much unused municipally owned land.

“Fires are wholly predictable, flooding occurs every winter and the threat of disease is manifest to anyone who comes within touching distance of the filthy canals in the area. The causes of the problems are not addressed, instead the City chooses to apply expensive “band-aids” to the symptoms of the overcrowding and lack of security, the indignity and the lack of proper services,” he wrote.

The False Bay Echo directed specific questions to the City of Cape Town and received a detailed response from the mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, and energy, Xanthea Limberg.

She said the four canals are being cleaned mechanically from Monday to Friday and litter removal by manual labour has been extended to seven days a week.

The last record in council records of the reeds in Masiphumelele being cut back is November 2016.

“This will be done again before the beginning of winter in order to allow for winter rain water to run through into the wetlands,” she said.

When asked to specify the dates, equipment used and details of cleaning that was carried out, Ms Limberg said: “Mechanical cleaning is now a five-day per week operation. Equipment used is a combination unit (super sucker), sludge pumps and manual labour.”

Ms Limberg said the informal area is too dense for additional sanitation provision. “Much of it lies on a wetland and as such cannot be legally or safely serviced. Those who settle on a wetland area often reject alternative sanitation such as portable flush toilets, and this means that the services that the City can provide are not as close as we would like to offer them.”

She said that existing toilets are regularly vandalised and blocked by disposal of rags and litter. Blockages are also not reported, meaning that repairs are delayed until the City performs an inspection. Another factor is that taps, put into the area for the community, are often absorbed into dwellings and used for private use.

Ms Limberg said that when there is a fire, more people try to settle in the area, increasing competition for land and services.

“Dwellings are also built in firebreak/emergency access lanes, which is a major complication,” she said.

She added that some residents, rather than waiting for refuse collection days and placing their refuse out for collection, dump their rubbish into the canals or surrounding area.

In explanation for the current habitation of the wetlands, Ms Limberg said:

“The wetlands area was allowed to be illegally settled by a previous administration, despite the fact that the wetland area cannot be legally serviced. This has left us with an incredibly challenging situation, for which there is no single or overnight solution.”

Last week the City provided for publication a copy of the interdict on the land, legally preventing any habitation on the wetlands.

But City officials were met with the same outcry from community leaders at the demolition of shacks on April 18.

Community leader Dumsani Nhlapo said there was a broken relationship between the community and the City. “I just want to tell you we are ready to fight and also we will stop the development in Phase 4 until the City to listens to us,” he said.

He addressed the City, saying: “If you don’t fix this we will make the southern suburb ungovernable.”

Community leader Tshepo Moletsane said he was going to send an urgent email to the mayor for her intervention on the matter. “We can’t fold our arms and tolerate this unbecoming behaviour by the City officials. Black people belong to this country and this province and this is totally unaccepted,” he said.

Ms Limberg said he City has limited resources to solve the substantial and rapid urbanisation issues in Masiphumelele and elsewhere.

“Other government spheres have a responsibility to lead, to guide and to assist a local government with issues of extreme urbanisation, hence the establishment of the inter-governmental task team to look at cleansing, water and sanitation matters in Masiphumelele,” she said.

The City’s task team is working towards establishing remedial measures to be taken by the national, provincial and local government authorities, to urgently address delivery challenges in Masiphumelele, she said.

It is working according to the Masiphumelele, Noordhoek, Action Plan called Matrix.

According to Matrix, the preliminary work on the technical investigation into the feasibility of diverting polluted low-flow stormwater from the existing Masiphumelele canals into the sewer has been completed. A pilot project is being undertaken which will form part of the wash house structure and also divert grey water to sewers. This pilot project will be completed by the end of June. Depending on the success of the wash houses, it is envisaged that more wash houses will be rolled out.

According to Matrix, the introduction of more frequent cleaning of silt and sludge from the stormwater canals is ongoing. A door-to-door refuse bag service of two bags for each dwelling each week is being provided and the solid waste containers are being serviced twice a week. In the formal areas, the bags are being removed two to three days after being filled and in the informal areas the removal of bags is ongoing. There is also ongoing litter picking seven days a week. Illegally dumped material is also being removed on an ongoing basis

Green bins were introduced in February this year to assist with the containment of solid and liquid waste in the informal areas of Masiphumelele. This will be a pilot project which will be monitored and assessed.

Maintenance of toilets and standpipes as well as work on fixing and unblocking broken toilets is ongoing.

Work is also at an advanced stage pertaining to the extension of the Houmoed Road, while the Masiphumelele Phase 4 housing project is under way.

Emma Louise Powell, senior professional officer for Ms Limberg, said that senior officials
went on a site inspection of the canals on March 20, and confirmed that sludgy material at the ends of each canal was as a result of ongoing decanting of night soil and food waste into the canals.

She said that a suction machine has been moved on site to remove the sludge from the canals.

Ms Powell said that this machine will remain in Masipumhelele until the end of the financial year and will concentrate on the removal of sludge on a daily basis.

The City also has plans to install another free call line for residents to report faults from, free of charge.

Because of the infrastructure issues with the wetlands and the basin, Ms Powell said that one solution right now is to offer the community portable flush toilets – which the community has previously rejected. She asked for engagement with the community on this issue.