‘Municipal dam killed our boys’

2014-10-19 15:00

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Mfaleng Masiteng and Buyisiwe Maduna can’t forget what their sons’ bodies looked like when they were pulled from an oxidation dam full of filthy rain water. A cow’s carcass was recovered at the same time.

Tshepang Masiteng was just nine. Sikhumbuzo Maduna was 12. They died seven months ago. The fence has been repaired, but the dam still doesn’t work – just one of several incomplete projects in Memel, a small Free State town an hour’s drive from Vrede and Newcastle.

The boys’ mothers are inconsolable. Residents in Memel and the Zamani ­township are furious. Phumelela municipality manager Bruce Kannemeyer says the fencing was ­vandalised “by certain members of the community?...?and the ­children drowned as a result”.

One resident, Bafana Mbuli, said the Phumelela municipality started constructing the sewerage works – the dam was part of this project – in 2009.

“This is not the first dam that the municipality has built here that is not working. When they started, they didn’t even consult the community. We just saw construction trucks coming in. The next thing, they weren’t coming any more,” Mbuli said.

Zamani is littered with gaping holes full of water, and sewerage pipes protrude from the ground. Kannemeyer says that contractors walked off the job because they haven’t been paid.

“[Free State water board] Bloem Water was appointed by the provincial government to introduce the bucket system eradication programme,” Kannemeyer said. “We agree there are funding problems, but that is outside our realm of intervention.”

The provincial government did not respond to requests for comment.

Timothy Hedges, the chairperson of the Ratepayers’ Association in Memel, says that “there is no difference between the township and the town”.

“We have unfinished roads, sewage running in the streets, water pumps that back up – and we end up without water for up to five days.

“Once, I saw a little girl in a beautiful dress washing her toys in the sewage running down the street,” Hedges said.

When City Press visited this week, Zamani’s septic tanks hadn’t been cleaned and raw sewage was running into the local river.

Kannemeyer denied that there was sewage in Memel’s streets, river and wetlands.

“I have assurances from my guys that they are emptying the septic tanks at least three times a day and that would mean there will be no spillages,” he said.

Presented with photographs of the polluted river, ­Kannemeyer could not respond.

Mfaleng Masiteng and Buyisiwe Maduna avoid the dam in which their sons died.

Masiteng last saw Tshepang on a Saturday afternoon. He didn’t come home that night, but she thought he’d slept at his aunt’s house. On Sunday morning, she went looking for him and nobody knew where he was.

Later that day, Masiteng was told that her son’s clothes had been spotted at the dam. That afternoon, the police dredged the dam and Masiteng identified Tshepang’s little body.

“He used to sing uMaskandi for me and loved playing with his little sister,” she says, holding her two-year-old daughter.

Maduna sobs inconsolably as she tries to talk about her boy. She waited for hours next to the dam while the police searched the water. That morning, he’d begged her to let him go and play soccer with some older boys.

“I have nothing to say to the municipality. That dam was supposed to be closed off. That didn’t happen and now my son is dead,” she says, choking on her words.

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