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Hundreds of angry residents demonstrated at the corner of Aliam Drive and Mew Way demanding that the City of Cape Town repair damaged stormwater drains and sewer pipes in Site B, Khayelitsha yesterday morning. While they sang struggle songs, the demonstrators waved placards that read: “Sidiniwe kuhlala nekk”, “Saze sayiphila ikk”, and ”Phantsi ngekk”. They brought traffic to a standstill as they emptied rubbish bags on the busy streets and turned back minibus taxis and private cars almost throughout the morning.

Ludwe Varha, secretary of the Victoria Mxenge branch of the ANC-aligned civic structure, the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco), said the residents were fed-up with stinking, damaged sewers and stormwater drains in Site B. “We have been trying to get the City of Cape Town officials to fix the drains since February, but they gave us different excuses for not fixing them,” he said. Varha said the city’s infrastructure managers first claimed that they could not repair the drains because their staff was getting robbed in Site B.

“We asked members of our neighbourhood watches and community leaders to guard City of Cape Town staff while they fixed the drains, but we noticed that the drains break down again shortly after they fixed them,” he said. The managers said they could not deal with the damaged drains because all pump stations were vandalised in Khayelitsha. “Later on, they changed their excuse and said they could not repair the drains because the depot was experiencing shortage of trucks and staff,” Varha added.

The protesters demanded that the City of Cape Town hire more staff and increase the number of trucks servicing Site B.

Ward councillor Thando Mpengesi, who joined the protest, expressed frustration at the City of Cape Town’s inability to repair the overflowing drains. “Residents have been living with sewage for five months. There is no dignity for them. Toilets don’t even flush in some areas,” said the ANC councillor.

Overflowing sewerage in Hlengisa Street, W section in Site B.

Community leader, Sheila Magwentshu said dirty water from a damaged sewage drain pools at the entrance of Avela Educare Centre, where she works as a principal. “Because of the filth and smell, parents don’t want the crèche to hold graduation ceremonies for their kids. Other parents have even pulled their kids out of the crèche. As a result, I battle to get basic necessities and pay my staff full salaries.” She had opened the crèche to raise money to support her family.

Community leader, Vuyiseka Vayisi said: “Our children’s’ parks are covered in sh*t, so our kids don’t have places to play in.” She fears for the health of the kids as they wade through the dirty water when they play. “A three-year-old boy fell into an open, overflowing drain in my area last week, but luckily his mother saw and rescued him quickly.

“We can’t even walk in our streets as sh*t is scattered all over the place,” she said.

Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town has called for collective effort between the city’s water and sanitation department and the residents. However, the City has blamed the residents for causing the blockages through illegal dumping and has gone to the extent of calling Khayelitsha a ‘hotspot’ for illegal dumping.

“Dumping into sewers remains the cause of the majority of blockages/overflows. The City clears these blockages as they are reported, however to solve the problem completely, communities need to be made aware of what can and cannot be safely flushed or washed down the drain,”said Mayoral Committee Member for Water and Waste, Alderman Xanthea Limberg.

“Approximately 75% of these cases city-wide are the result of the misuse of the sewer system, where objects such as rags, builders’ rubble, nappies, feminine hygiene products, litter, fats and oils are dumped into manholes or enter via sinks or flushed down toilets. Khayelitsha is a hotspot area,” Limberg said.