Land occupiers homeless after sewage pipe burst

Homes stand empty in Empolweni and Ethembeni after they were flooded with sewage water. Archive Photo by Vincent Lali

Land occupiers whose homes in Empolweni and Ethembeni were wrecked by the flood of sewage have appealed to the City of Cape Town for help but the City is refusing.

About seventy shack dwellers from Empolweni and Ethembeni have abandoned their houses and are now staying in a disused shop. They took shelter there after sewage spilled from a damaged pipe into their shacks on Tuesday night.

Sewage water streamed down Baden Powell Drive into shacks located in Empolweni and Ethembeni informal settlements on Tuesday.

Community leader, Nomfuneko Khonokhono, said most of the affected shacks are in Ethembeni as the informal settlement is located in a low-lying area. She said: “We want the city to use chemicals to disinfect the flooded areas and shacks to reduce the overpowering stench and kill germs. We also want to be protected from diseases that come with faeces even if we are land occupiers.”

Currently, a stench of faeces fills the air in the informal settlements beside Baden Powell Drive in Khayelitsha as shacks are inundated.

One of the displaced residents, Neliswa Situko, said: “We phoned the City for the whole night, but no one came to assist us. Some of my neighbours had to take their shacks apart to allow the dirty, smelly water to come out.”

City of Cape Town plumbers only came on Wednesday to fix the sewage pipe, she said.

Situko, whose shack is located near the sewage pipe, said: “Though the sewage drain is fixed, it still gives off a powerful stench.”

She is a traditional healer and the dirty water that came in through the walls and spread throughout her shack ruined her stock of herbs.

“I wore my gloves and scooped the sh*t and water from the floor with a bucket and threw it away.” Despite using disinfectants to clean and scrub excrement off the floor, the stench still lingers in her shack she said.

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Nokhanyiso Maliwa said she has been taking shelter with about 70 other shack dwellers in a disused Somali-owned shop in Empolweni since Tuesday night. “Our shacks are engulfed in dirty water and my belongings are dirty after coming into contact with sh*t and dirty water.

“We freeze inside the zinc structure as the cold comes in. Our own blankets are wet, so we want more blankets to keep warm here.” Maliwa said they wore gumboots to wade through the dirty water to reach their shacks.

The filth also spoiled all their groceries so Maliwa said they scrape money together to buy food and share it. They have come to depend on donations of food from Khayelitsha Community Action Network (CAN) and individual donors.

According to Bonga Zamisa, an activist with Khayelitsha CAN, the organisation is assisting the shack dwellers with food. “The sewage flood damaged almost everything, so we are trying to provide what we can from donations we are receiving” he said.

Zamisa said Khayelitsha CAN is concerned about the health of the shack dwellers as the informal settlements are still wet. Khayelitsha CAN has appealed to the City of Cape Town to provide the shack dwellers with blankets and food parcels, he said.

No sympathy from the City

Councillor Malusi Booi, Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, said:  “The City has tried to prevent the illegal occupation of this particular piece of land to prevent this situation from happening. Those who succeed in occupying illegally unfortunately do so at own risk.”

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The City of Cape Town has no love for the two informal settlements. Empolweni residents earlier this year took the City to court after the Anti-Land Invasion Unit demolished their shacks and won the case. Ethembeni, on the other hand, is the neighbourhood where the same unit from the City of Cape Town dragged Bulelani Qolani out of his home naked as they were demolishing shacks on city-owned land.

Alderman Xanthea Limberg, Mayoral Committee Member for Water and Waste, said the city fixed the sewage drain on Tuesday.

 “There was a sewer overflow recently which has also contributed to flooding, caused by the disposal of inappropriate materials into the sewer system,” she said. Limberg said illegal dumping causes about 300 sewer blockages across the metro each day. “The reality is that as long as the disposal of inappropriate materials into these systems continues, so too will the blockages,” she said.

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