By Anna Majavu
A giant sewage leak in Fort England’s Matthew Street has destroyed a large piece of the road, creating a huge crater that has prevented the Hartzenberg family from being able to drive in and out of their home.
Two homes have also lost part of their front yards, which have been eroded away by the flood of sewage. Neighbours say the sewage water reaches heights of almost a metre when it rains, making it difficult for them to walk to nearby Raglan Road.
The home of Johannes Hartzenberg and his family has also been invaded by a terrible stench day and night, and by thousands of mosquitoes, Hartzenberg says.
“I can’t get access to my yard, and it is even difficult for us to walk out to the road when it rains because the sewage mud is very wet and very slippery. This driveway was well-built. But when the contractors came, they dug under here to put in new sewage pipes,” he says, referring to the municipality’s project to replace ageing asbestos sewage pipes.
At the first rain after the contractors left, sewage burst out of the pipes, destroying the driveway and part of the road. “We thought the contractor would come back and fix it. But they just vanished,” he said.
Hartzenberg’s whole family currently has a flu-like illness from breathing in “the fumes from this toxic stuff” every day for three months, he says. “No-one is coming near. They never even came close to here, not the municipality,” he says.
Cary Clark of the DA is the ward councillor for the area, Ward Eight. She has reported the leak to all relevant upper structures within the Municipality a number of times without any action being taken. The chairperson of the relevant portfolio said she would confer with contractors about the problem, but has never come back to Clark to say how the leak will be rectified.
“This has been getting worse and worse since I reported it in January this year. It is a river of sewage that comes past the house and the road is degrading rapidly,” said Clark.
She said it was unclear whether there was a blockage further up the sewage line that had caused the outflow, or if the problem came from faulty piping installed by contractors to the municipality. “Ultimately the municipality is responsible for their contractors. They are responsible to get it right,” Clark said.
In the meantime, the Hartzenberg family and neighbours are living under conditions that are horrendous and a violation of their human rights and dignity, says Clark.
Hartzenberg says his family lived happily in the house ever since they bought the property in 1993. “We never had this problem before, because the municipality used to come after heavy rains to check these tunnels and pipes and open them and take the blockages away”, he says.
They now have to park their car outside in the street, instead of behind a locked gate. They walk through or jump over sewage to get inside their yard. If it is raining, there is only a tiny piece of dry land between a light pole and a wall, about 40 centimetres wide, that the family must squeeze onto to walk into their house.
Hartzenberg has tried to fill in the giant sewage ditch with rocks, and mounds of soil that he stamped down. He also sometimes unclogs the blocked sewage pipes about 50 metres away with a piece of iron and removes garbage that washes through.
“I tried at first to fill up these holes so that I could drive in and out, but the next rain spilt it all again. These pipes are rotten and broken,” he says.
Hartzenberg says the municipality never sends workers to unblock the pipes, and he is worried about other people who walk through and drive along the road.
Neighbour Nomnikelo Titi has lived in Matthew Street for almost 20 years.
“We are struggling here. Our lives are so difficult. We cannot even cross the street as pedestrians because there is this sewage which is running over, night and day. When it rains, it becomes a big dam here. We cannot even open our doors and windows because of the smell. We have to cook our food with our doors and windows closed,” said Titi.
Titi said the residents had reported the problem to the municipality. “Mosquitoes are killing us here. We cannot even sell our houses,” she said.
The sewage has also caused a giant growth of bushes and weeds, which the municipality has not cleared, and the residents are afraid this may be infested with snakes.
Titi also showed Grocott’s Mail a washed-away bridge structure. “The contractor destroyed the bridge. The municipality said there would not be any sewage moving across the top of the road, and it would go under but it is worse now”.
Makana municipality’s bulk sewer system is being upgraded in four phases. Phases one and two have been completed but when it rains, the stormwater goes into the sewage system causing huge floods of sewage mixed with stormwater. This should not be happening, says Ward Committee member, Peter Sturrock.
“Secondly, a lot of the sewerage is not going into the sewerage system, it is going into the stormwater streams, so it is juxtaposed. One of the problems is that phases three and four pipes aren’t there yet. Once those pipes are installed, the bottleneck will be resolved, and sewage will flow through to the wastewater treatment works,” said Sturrock.
However, the wastewater treatment works still need an upgrade and this work has not begun yet as the tenders are still being finalised.
Matthew Street is not the only road in Fort England with dire sewage problems. In Atherstone Road, just outside Fort England Hospital, residents have complained that when it rains, two large manhole covers are pushed up and out by sewage mixed with stormwater, causing the street to fill with the fetid liquid. A video taken by a resident shows the road flooded with dirty water.
Just past the bridge on nearby Victoria Road, sewage gushes into the open, causing a stream of foul water to flow down the street for a few hundred metres. Again, the sewerage leak has caused a huge growth of vegetation. This is the result of phase one’s sewage pipe being blocked, say residents. It is unclear why the municipality has not unblocked the pipe.
Rowan Engelbrecht, who also lives on Matthew Street, was part of a public steering committee involved in overseeing the sewage upgrade. “There is a lot of finishing work needed to be done by the contractor,” he said.
Makana municipality spokesperson Anele Mjekula did not respond to questions from Grocott’s Mail.
In a statement released on 30 March, the municipality said individual councillors should stop making “unauthorized visits” to water treatment plants to conduct oversight. This was in reference to DA councillor Geoff Embling and Makana Citizen’s Front (MCF) councillor Lungisa Sixaba’s recent visit to the James Kleynhans water plant.
The statement added that Vara has also “voiced concern over growing contestation from “retired experts” whenever water-related reports are issued by the municipality”, insisting that experts must offer their services to the municipality and not speak independently.
But Sturrock said that this had been done with both the present and previous municipal managers and that in both cases, initial responses had been positive but ignored thereafter.