Pools of sewage a daily torment in Cape communities

Residents of Samora Machel township, Phillipi and elsewhere argue that small sewer pipes are the cause of recurrent blockages. Photo by Mandla Mnyakama

Overflowing sewage is a frequent problem for residents of Samora Machel township and elsewhere in Cape Town. Besides the terrible stench they have to contend with, residents report that their children suffer from skin rashes and respiratory ailments.

Samora Machel, Weltevreden Valley North, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Samora Machel residents complain that sporadic sewerage drain bursts in the streets and alleyways outside their homes cause them great discomfort. Besides blocking up the toilets insides, they describe the problem as an enormous health threat which causes them breathing difficulties in the morning and evening because of the stench.

Concerned residents from Phillipi township complain that the issue has also caused their young children’s diarrhea and skin rash problems. They have, according to some residents, demanded that government authorities take serious steps to fix the dilemma but it has been recurring for years.

Elitsha also got a whiff of the stomach churning stench which filled the air during our recent visit to the area. Pools of sewage had formed on the streets and drains overflowed with sewage, obstructing the movement of traffic.

The fetid pools can stand for weeks without being attended to despite being reported. Some tarred streets appear to be seriously damaged because of the lack of drainage.

The drains block up rapidly even after being unblocked. Local residents attribute the problem to the size of the drain pipes and demand that the City of Cape Town alleviate the situation by replacing them with bigger pipes.

Community members are worried about the health hazards that are presented by the pool of sewage in Samora Machel township. Photo by Mandla Mnyakama

“This is totally intolerable. It is hardly two hours before a drain that had been previously fixed erupts again,” says Noluthando Mabilwana, a 32-year-old mother of two.

Mabilwana grumbles that a blocked drain in front of her Robert Sobukwe Street home causes them breathing difficulties, especially in the early mornings and evenings. She was compelled last year to relocate her two children, aged three and seven years, to the rural Eastern Cape to protect their health.

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“We find it essential that the municipality should make more efforts to fix this issue once and for all. It’s been going on for a long time since we arrived here at Samora Machel in the 1990’s.

“We even spent our last Christmas holidays and the New Year celebrations in the same situation. It troubled us too much as we did not receive an immediate response. The municipal staff was on holiday at the time,” she says.

Nondumiso Xabendlini, 40-years-old and Nomawethu Yisake, 52-years-old, said they faced the struggle of protecting their three children from the hazardous situation.

“It’s always possible that you will catch them playing in that filth, if you lose sight of them. They do not care about the skin rash problems and diarrhea it has affected them with,” says Xabendlini.

Lithelihle Sodlaka, from Oliver Tambo Educare Centre, says that her two children fall sick as a result of their exposure to the raw sewage and she frequently has to take them to a local clinic or private doctors for medical help.

“Some serious steps should be taken. The existence of these endlessly running sewage canals is scaring. They caused my two children skin rashes and stomach problems. One of them is less than a year-old with and another one three-years-old, and both are currently extremely sick and cannot eat because of this mess,” complains Sodlaka emotionally.

She was busy removing rubbish from the foul-smelling water which formed canals on both sides of the Duma Nokwe Street where the centre is based. The 27-year-old woman adds that similar sicknesses have affected the 56 other children they care for, aged between six months and six-years-old.

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The problem appears to also be widespread in the adjacent Brown’s Farm informal settlement where several drains were also clogged up.

Lulamile Phuphuma, 49-years-old, moans that the drains cause them huge difficulties. Just three weeks ago, he woke up to find the sewerage drain in front of their home’s only yard entrance overflowing with sewage.

Luthando Tyhalibongo, the City of Cape Town’s Media Manager, blames the issue on the disposal of rags, sand and other inappropriate items into the sewerage system by residents.

“Rags especially either cause blockages, or clog up the pumps at the pump stations causing them to trip or suffer mechanical damage.

“Residents are reminded that only human waste and toilet paper should be flushed down the toilets, and cooking oil should not be poured down the drain,” says Tyhalibongo.

He complains that in other instances, residents open up manholes to dispose of rubbish and he appeals to residents to report these types of infringements as soon as possible to prevent ongoing blockages.

He also claims that their pipeline inspections have shown no defects that could cause blockages.  However, Tyhalibongo says that a contract has been awarded to increase the size of the sewer running under Lillian Ngoyi Drive, as the line is currently needing to be unblocked every day due to the volume of rags that are being flushed.


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