Steps to keep Masi clean

A woman throws a night bucket of human sewage into the canals in Masiphumelele.

A second directive has been issued by the provincial government to the City of Cape Town, ordering them to clean up Masiphumelele.

The original directive was issued in February by Dr Eshaam Palmer, director of environmental law enforcement, who then spoke out about the pollution and degradation to the environment and its significant danger to the health and well-being of Masiphumelele residents.

The second directive was issued in July and came on the heels of a personal visit by Dr Palmer to the area.

He was accompanied by activist Rosemary Milbank. The new directive is a follow up on the previous one, which the City appealed against.

Mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, Xanthea Limberg said: “The City maintains its commitment to improving conditions in the area, however, we have appealed both directives on numerous grounds, including that we are already attending to the issues in conjunction with the Western Cape government and the national government.”

Community leader and resident of Masiphumelele, Tshepo Moletsane, said the new directive is similar to the one that was issued last time and does not contain any practical steps taken to change the conditions of the informal settlement.

“The community of Masiphumelele deserves better services like Fish Hoek, Noordhoek and Silvermine. It’s a matter of compliance and respecting the highest sphere of government,” said Mr Moletsane.

He said the canals are still dirty with everything as usual. “Kids are playing there on a daily basis under those terrible conditions. More practical steps and action for non-compliance are urgently needed to change the lives of the poor people in Masiphumelele,” he said.

“The City of Cape Town has got all the necessary equipment to make a difference in the most affected areas. We have done our own site visit; nothing has changed – it is still dirty, stinking and risky to the young ones,” Mr Moletsane said.

Paul Hoffman of Accountability Now said the City of Cape Town as an organ of state must, in terms of Section 7(2) of the Bill of Rights, respect, protect, promote and fulfil the residents’ right to just administrative action, as set out in Section 33 of the constitution.

“It is not procedurally fair to delay unduly because, under Section 237, the City ought to act diligently and without delay,” he pointed out.

“The timeous preparation and publication of a plan for Masiphumelele is a form of administrative action. The sustained failure of the City to publish a plan and initiate public participation in its finalisation means that it is constitutionally delinquent; and in breach of its obligation to publish a constitutionally compliant plan that properly addresses the many threats to and infringements of human rights that Masipudlians have reported to the City, the province and two Chapter Nine Institutions – the South African Human Rights Commission in March 2016 and the OPP (office of the public protector) this year,” he said.

He said without a sustainable plan, the humanitarian crisis in the poorer parts of Masiphumelele, especially the areas which have been allowed for more than 20 years, will continue. “The living conditions in Masiphumelele are shamefully intolerable and need to be addressed urgently,” Mr Hoffman said.

Ms Milbank said it was shocking that the City has appealed the new directive, again.

“The situation has not changed at all. Litter is not the problem – lack of toilets and sewage-filled canals are. Also lack of taps and electricity connections. All the City did after the first directive was to bring in a few green bins, bring in workers to sweep the street in the formal area, collect refuse a few more times a week,” she said.

“They had men in the canals with no protective clothing trying to lift the sewage out with forks and then dumping it on the sides of the canals where children walk and play; toilets have not been repaired, people still throw the contents of night buckets (sewage) into the canals because there is nowhere else to throw it,” she said.

Ms Milbank said the City also brought in “a very rickety sucking machine with leaking pipes to try to suck the sewage contaminated water out of the canals”, but she said this did not help because of the continual dumping of night buckets. “The City announced proudly that they spent R1million in one month – it was just a waste of taxpayers’ money as far as the directive is concerned. The directive referred to the informal area, not the formal housing area. I took Dr Palmer to see the area the week before he issued the second directive and he was shocked. No follow up had been done on the first directive,” she said.

Ms Limberg said that in terms of the new requirements, dredging is currently carried out quarterly, or more frequently if budget allows.

“A review of frequency of dredging would have to be undertaken in the context of competing stormwater maintenance requirements in all areas of the city. It should be noted that dredging operations are rendered difficult by the density of human settlement in the area,” she said.

She explained that the City is currently looking at the option of deepening the outlet channels into the wetlands by making use of the new amphibious excavator. “Cleaning with Expanded Public Works Programme staff is taking place seven days a week, however.”

She said the City is also currently undertaking a pilot project to divert stormwater from these canals into the sewerage system. The plan for this pilot has just been completed and costing for this project is under way.

“The pilot will form part of the wash house structure. Depending on the success of the wash houses, this model may be replicated. This aims to improve the quality of effluent that drains into the wetland,” she said.