‘Build a bridge or we’ll disrupt Dusi’

2013-11-18 00:00

BUILD us a proper bridge, or we’ll disrupt the Dusi.

Following yet another car being swept off the low-level bridge this past weekend, Sobantu residents have threatened to show their anger and disrupt the Dusi canoe marathon next year.

There have been multiple deaths at the low-lying Sobantu bridge that is flooded every year on a regular basis.

Now a young man is missing after he heroically held open the door of a car that was swept off the flooded Woodhouse road bridge so three young women could get to safety in the early hours of yesterday morning.

They managed to get to safety on the bank downstream.

But their friend, the driver of the car, was washed away when the current got too strong and pushed the car further downstream.

The Pietermaritzburg K9 search and rescue unit received a phone call at 1 am yesterday morning to come and help find the missing driver of the vehicle.

The women were too upset to talk to The Witness as they anxiously waited on the river bank yesterday for news of their friend, who may have saved their lives and lost his own.

Veteran K9 search expert Lieutenant Jack Haskins got to the scene at 2 am.

As visibility was terrible then, he assembled a team at 7 am to start looking for the missing man and to retrieve the vehicle. The roof of the car was just visible in the Dusi river as the waters had begun to subside.

A sombre crowd of residents gathered yesterday to watch as divers searched the muddy waters to see if they could find a body.

Local ward councillor Thandi Matiwane was angry that this scenario occurred repeatedly because council refused to build a proper bridge.

“This happens every time there is a heavy storm and still the council has too many excuses. They care too much about the Dusi canoe race which is the reason they say they must keep this low-level bridge. But they don’t care about ordinary people.”

She said many people had to use the bridge to go to work and risked their lives when it rained.

“Obviously the signposts and the boom gates are not enough to prevent tragedies from happening. The boom gates have to be manually operated and who is going to go out in the middle of the night in a storm to close the gates and risk themselves being washed away?”

Residents from Jika Joe and Sobantu who cross the bridge to access the nearby municipal dump to recycle waste materials, said they had often lost things in the river when the water was flowing too strongly. Dump recycler Sipho Mdedu said he had seen people washed downstream a few times.

“It’s not safe, but we have to cross because it is how we earn our living. Our community hears about dead people being found on the river bank many weeks after there is a storm.”

Matiwane said that the council had stalled the building of a bridge by claiming that they needed to do an environmental assessment before proceeding with the project.

Haskins said he had also sent in recommendations to the council calling for a new bridge to be built.

“We are called here regularly because of people being washed away. Something has to be done.”

Community members have told Matiwane they want to stop the Dusi canoe race because that is the only way to get the municipality’s attention.

“I understand their anger,” said Matiwane.

Dusi organiser Brett Austen-Smith said the Dusi Canoe Marathon has nothing to do with the flooding or the bridge.

He said: “When we use the river for race-related events we make sure there are strict security and safety protocols in place and we hire security people at the Sobantu bridge to inform people that the river will be high and to not cross the bridge.

“It would be a big pity if the residents disrupted the race to make their statement because the Dusi has done a lot to uplift the residents along the river.”

Accuweather recorded rainfall of 60 mm in parts of Pietermaritzburg on Saturday night as a heavy storm swept over most of the city.

Municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma was not available to give comment on the bridge issue.

Police media liaison confirmed the incident, but would not release the name of the missing man until he is found alive or confirmed dead.

• trish.beaver@witness.co.za



•At least one person a year is washed away on the Sobantu bridge when there is flooding according to Lieutenant Jack Haskins.

•The bridge floods in summer when the rains cause the Dusi river to become swollen and also when Midmar Dam releases water.

•Most of the fatalities occur at night when there is poor visibility and drivers often under-estimate the depth of the water and the strength of the current.

•The municipality constructed boom gates on either side of the bridge to be closed when the river is in flood. No-one seems to know who is responsible for closing the gates when the river is in flood.

•A floodlight was erected a few years ago to illuminate the area but it has not been maintained and does not work.

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