By Fahdia Msaka
The state of neglect of Alicedale, a small town in the Sarah Baartman District Municipality in the Eastern Cape, overwhelmed Grocott’s Mail journalists, leaving them feeling shaken after visiting the town for the first time.
As in much of South Africa, Alicedale, just one hour’s drive from Makhanda, is divided along former Apartheid lines into a town centre, a formerly so-called Coloured area (Transriviere), and a township (KwaNonzwakazi), where mostly Black South Africans still live. In both Transriviere and KwaNonzwakazi, the play areas are neglected and filled with pollution despite these being spaces where children, the most vulnerable members of society, spend their time.
The most concerning dumpsite is opposite the Tia Wessels Educare Centre, attended by children aged between two and six years old. Open sewage and pollution are located a few steps away from the daycare centre, affecting play outside, and playing outside plays a vital role in children’s development.
The centre’s principal Yvonne Sias, who has been working for almost a decade at the centre says, “The children cannot even play outside on hot days and without constant supervision because of the harm they might face, even though playing outside is a huge part of children’s development.”
While the children at the educare centre have their own playground inside to play in, the sewage smell affects them. The neighbourhood children play in a derelict public playground, right next to the sewage spill.
Local resident Eli Konstant points out that the sewage leak area is also filled with garbage. “This dumpsite is not only a health risk for the children at the creche but also for the community. The sewage lies directly in the path taken by most of those walking into Alicedale, utilizing the already dangerous steps down the hill,” said Konstant.
The open sewage system adds to Alicedale’s other problems – there is a high unemployment rate of almost 85%, residents say. Drug and alcohol abuse escalated during the pandemic, contributing to high levels of poverty.
Konstant told Grocott’s Mail that “Millions were spent a couple of years ago to upgrade the waterborne sewage system to avoid the need for frequent visits by the honey sucker. This money has been entirely wasted because the holding tank built is permanently blocked – we are told the pump (which is buried quite deep) becomes entangled with debris and therefore does not function. The solution seems to be to spend zillions of rand by sending the honey sucker to Alicedale. It is also abundantly clear that having spent more than R11 million some ten years ago upgrading the sewage treatment works, lack of efficient and properly trained personnel there means that this is a total failure.”
The stench becomes intolerable for the residents, especially during hot summer, with flies pervading the area. Windows and doors to the creche must remain closed during these times. The small kitchen area that has to be aired out is particularly vulnerable to this invasion of flies.
Grocott’s Mail has contacted Makana Municipality regarding this matter, but they have not yet responded.