By Kathryn Cleary and Sue Maclennan
“Here in Makana, there is an outbreak of waterborne disease waiting to happen. It’s only a matter of time.”
In November 2018, following two weeks of heated sessions in the Makana Council, the topic of Sun City remained up in the air. Despite having been submitted correctly, a motion of question on the informal settlement was twice excluded from the agendas of council meetings, leading to a furious DA staging successive walkouts and, in the backlash, the Speaker calling armed police into the Council chamber to remove senior DA councillors Mlindi Nhanha and Brian Fargher.
In September Grocott’s Mail reported that residents of Sun City, which is located on top of a former landfill site, were facing service delivery issues affecting the community’s sanitation. Due to the settlement’s location, Makana is unable to install sewerage lines, so residents must use the bucket system. However, residents told our reporter that their buckets were seldom collected and sanitised.
Makana was scheduled to collect the waste on a fortnightly basis but could not do so due to mechanical issues with the sanitation truck, according to acting director of infrastructure at the time Kelello Makgoka. As a result, residents had taken to dumping waste in nearby bush.
Three months later, in February 2019, Sun City residents took to barricading the road, raising the red flag once again on the abhorrent sanitation conditions the community faces. The roads were blocked for days with burning rubbish, tyres and buckets filled with maggot-infested human waste. Residents told Grocott’s Mail that the buckets had not been collected since the beginning of January.
Dustin Davies lives in Sun City with a family of three children. Davies spoke to our reporters emphasising the horrifying sanitation conditions that residents had been living in for months at a time.
“Today I decided to represent Sun City. We are doing this protest and as you can see it is peaceful, it’s not violent,” said Davies last week. “The bucket system is overflowing here, that is why you see us here doing this protesting.”
Davies said that the community met with the Executive Mayor and other Directors at the end of January. Makgoka, whose appointed position is Director of Public Safety and Community Services, confirmed this, stating that the meeting had addressed water, sanitation and refuse in Sun City.
Residents stated that the last time their buckets were collected was early January, and that Makana told them that the sanitation truck was broken. Makgoka confirmed this.
On Wednesday 13 February, residents continued to protest, but their buckets had been emptied.
As a result of the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) strike, Makana had to find another service provider to collect the buckets, said Makgoka. “We are trying our best given the situation,” he said.
Resident Freddie Smith or “Bossy” as the community calls him, assured our reporters that the protest was peaceful, but said the community would not stop until Makana addressed their grievances.
“There are some other issues in this protest [besides the buckets],” said Smith. “The taps and the lights, because it’s very dark here.”
Residents were once again calling for improved sanitation, access to water from communal taps and working street lights. These complaints are nothing new for this community, but recent data released by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) raises more serious concerns
Water safety concerns
Water testing results from November and December of 2018 returned positive for e.coli bacteria in Makana’s water supply. The laboratory results show levels of potentially disease-causing bacteria to be up to 20 times higher than the legislated standard.
As charity Gift of the Givers handed out emergency supplies of bottled water to residents, schools and clinics on Wednesday 13 February, furious councillors were hearing in a committee meeting of the Community Safety and Social Service portfolio that in November 2018, the total coliform count of water sampled at the Environmental Health department was 201. The standard considered safe for drinking is 0-9. In the same month, laboratory tests recorded a 2 cfu/100ml reading of e.coli in water sampled at the Extension 7 clinic. No amount of e.coli in drinking water is safe, according to the national standard.
However, water testing results from January and February released 18 February show markable improvements in the municipal water supply. Makgoka shared the latest test results with Grocott’s Mail 19 February; confirming that all sites except Riebeeck East had reached acceptable levels of bacteria. Makana issued a statement advising Riebeeck East residents to boil the water before consumption.
Adding to this, in a presentation at the end of last year, DWS Water Quality Manager Mzukisi Maneli highlighted some of Makhanda’s worst ongoing sewage spillages. Photographs showed raw sewage pouring into the Bloukrans and Botha’s Rivers from broken sewerage pipes and junctions across the city, as well as infrastructure at the Belmont and Mayfield waste water treatment works.
At the meeting of the Makana Water Forum in Noluthando Hall, intended among other things to set in place a water management plan for the municipality’s December shutdown period, Maneli said, “Here in Makana, there is an outbreak of waterborne disease waiting to happen. It’s only a matter of time.”
Last week, DWS stated in a press release that Makana could be taken to court as a result of raw sewage spills into surrounding rivers.
Sun City is but one example of many local communities on the frontlines of Makana’s sanitation and water war. With one working tap providing municipal water, and overflowing waste buckets, residents wait in fear for the worst.
Makgoka expressed that long-term plans for Sun City include relocating residents to a better environment; however residents say there is no other place for them.
Sitting on a health time-bomb but nowhere to go
In council last November, Mayor Nomhle Gaga claimed that Sun City residents were “double-dipping”; meaning that they had been allocated housing in suitable areas but had chosen to stay in Sun City.
Makgoka in September said, “The area was closed, people were removed to areas of Mayfield and Hooggenoeg. But some people moved back, sold their houses and started Sun City informal settlement,” he said.
Our reporter returned to the community to further investigate these claims.
Former ward councillor Marcelle Booysen claims that very few Sun City residents were in fact allocated to RDP housing, and of the few, only a handful were renting them out. Booysen served as a councillor from 2012 through 2016.
“Yes some people got their houses and they sold it, some are renting it,” she said. However, there were also people allocated houses who never got them.
“There were people who got houses. They had a letter to say, ‘this is your house, you should go get the key’. When they went to the housing department to go and get the key, the house [had been]given to somebody else. So now they’re sitting with a letter, and they’ve been registered as a house-owner, it would appear on the [housing register]but they haven’t actually got the house.”
Booysen stated this was between 2003 and 2007.
Our reporter spoke to one Sun City resident who had been waiting for a house since 1992. Tina Alkaster is 86 years old, and lives in a small metal shack with her daughter, Tina Seeletsa. Alkaster stated that she had a letter approving her for a home, but when she went to claim the house there were already people living there. “The government didn’t assist,” she emphasised. “It’s no use fighting,” said her daughter.
At the time of the visit, the family did not have the original letter with them.
Another family told a similar story.
Lorraine Nel was pregnant with her son Samuel, when she was told she could move into a house in Extension 10. “I could have moved but I had no help and no money,” she said. “The clinic said I must put my feet up.” Samuel is four years old, and has grown up in Sun City. Nel’s partner, Freddie Smith, has the original letter approving their family for a home in Extension 10.
In September, Grocott’s Mail spoke to Smith, who had taken to fixing the broken tap in the community.
Nel added that their buckets had been collected the previous week, but that they were told it would be another month before the next collection.
The day of the visit, Makana was repairing a vandalised mainline in Mayfield. As result, Sun City did not have water.
Makana has been approached numerous times for comment on the housing matter and did not provide a response.
Grocott’s will continue to report..
Grocott’s Mail will continue to investigate the housing and sanitation crisis in Sun City. Any residents who may have information to assist our reporters, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our team would like to inform our readers that the information in this article dating back to November 2018 was written as a story to be published with urgency and immediacy for our readers. However, given the severity of the issues in the article we made the editorial decision to wait until we had more information from Makana. We now feel that given the time of crisis it is our responsibility to fully publish this information for the health and well-being of our readers.
Our team is also seeking resources to investigate potential waterborne disease and allegations of corruption within Makana. The investigation into potential waterborne illness is not about the municipal water supplied through communal and private taps; but the standing water and sewage that accumulates in public areas as a result of leaks or spills. This issue is of particular concern for Sun City due to the poor sanitation conditions and lack of water infrastructure.
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