Don’t bet your boots on change

2012-03-24 14:41

Refiloe Mashetla faces a constant battle with the sickening stink of raw sewage that spills on to her yard daily.

The reason?

Companies hired by the municipality to lay a sewerage network dug trenches for the pipes and simply filled them in again – with nothing inside. They got away with R197 million.

At times, Mashetla’s yard in Meqheleng’s Zone 8 in Katlehong section is completely flooded with human excrement, used toilet paper, condoms
and nappies.

She is forced to put on a pair of gumboots just to walk through her garden.

She is also forced to pick up a spade and pile soil into a short dyke-like structure to stop the filth from the manhole next to her gate from overwhelming her property.

It’s only a temporary solution though, for in a few hours, the torrent breaks through the sandy barrier once again.

“It’s worse when it rains because even our house gets flooded by storm water, which carries all the sewerage. We live with this filth all the time. It’s something I have to do every day.

“I’ve been forced to buy these boots because it’s the only way to move around the yard. I can’t walk in this mess with my feet because I will definitely get sick. We can’t sit outside in the shade because of the terrible smell. You can’t cook with the windows open. This smell follows you everywhere.”

The stink is a result of Setsoto Municipality’s recent dark past, which saw residents rise up in protest against inept governance and poor service delivery in April last year.

Meqheleng was cast into the spotlight when local activist Andries Tatane was shot dead by police during a protest march.

In a memorandum to the municipality, the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens Group complained about a lack of a proper water supply, the poor state of roads, eradication of bucket toilets, streets flooded with raw sewage and irregular refuse removal.

After a string of violent protests, the Free State’s ­Cooperative Governance MEC, Mamiki Qabathe, set up a team to investigate Meqheleng’s problems.

It found that the water shortage was caused by the simplest of reasons: insufficient water pressure resulting from a project to eradicate bucket toilets.

It also found that the projects meant to eradicate the bucket toilet system in Meqheleng and three other areas were far from finished.

And those consultants working on implementing the Municipal Infrastructure Grant projects were appointed without following proper tender processes.

Tshepiso Ramakarane, who was appointed municipal manager for the Setsoto Municipality this week, paints a gloomy picture.

He was appointed in an acting capacity in November last year, part of a team of “service delivery facilitators” dispatched by Qabathe’s task team.

The municipality, he says, was allocated R197 million by national government in 2007 to eradicate the bucket system and lay down a proper sewerage network.

“There were contractors or service providers appointed who did shoddy work, completely shoddy work, to a point that it’s criminal,” says Ramakarane.

Investigations have found that some companies dug up trenches, didn’t install any pipes, and simply covered them up again.

“What then happens? The reality is that the sewerage comes from wherever it’s coming, and suddenly there are no pipes. What do you expect to happen? Raw sewerage will come out. This is what happened. The truth must be told. These are things that happened between 2007 and 2009,” he says.

In a bid to temporarily eradicate the great stink, the municipality has contracted a plumbing company called Liolana Women to go around the township unblocking manholes on a daily basis.

Ramakarane says work has begun on the sewerage network and it should be completed by the first week of April.

But the problem seems endless as some of the blockages are caused by vandals.

Plumbing company owner Lillian Oljohn said: “Mostly we find objects like stones thrown into the sewerage pipes. Just this morning we found a 20-litre container forced down a sewerage pipe. It’s the same problem all the time. Sometimes we spend all day fixing one manhole because they are filled with sand.”

In another part of Zone 8, Shadrack Motseare faces a daily struggle with hazards caused by a lack of proper sanitation.

Every day at dusk he carries the black bucket his family uses as a toilet on to a wheelbarrow and heads for an open field across the road from his home.

There he digs a hole and empties the contents. Motseare has not had a toilet since he moved to Zone 8, a low-cost housing settlement, 12 years ago.
“I’ve lost hope. I have been to that office (Setsoto Local Municipality) so many times to complain about this and I’m tired because I end up fighting with the people there. The last time someone there asked me if I thought I was better than all the other people,” says Motseare.

He is a victim of the “criminal” contractors who were meant to install toilets in the area.

A brick toilet enclosure was built but no toilet or plumbing was ever installed, leaving them with just a bucket.

The names of the companies responsible for the state of Meqheleng’s sewerage are contained in a top-secret report compiled by the task team.
The report, which Qabathe’s office is sitting on, has not been released.

But there are signs of change on the horizon.

In the past, residents had to endure long months without water, forcing them into the rain and biting cold to queue for water at bulk water tanks.
Now the water tanks are gone and the taps are running again.

Even eight-year-old Palesa Mphahane is smiling because she no longer arrives late for school after waiting for her mother, Lieketseng, to return from the long queue at the water tanks.

Elsewhere, workmen are tarring some of the township’s roads.

However, it remains to be seen if, on the morning of the first anniversary of Tatane’s death on April 13, Mashetla will be forced to slip on her boots again just to walk in her yard.

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