Open drains leave a stinking hole

2015-04-30 14:45

Stolen drain covers continue to be a problem as they pose a danger to cars and pedestrians. 

Samantha Lee

Stolen drain covers continue to be a problem as they pose a danger to cars and pedestrians. PHOTO: Samantha Lee

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Drain, manhole and water meter covers continue to vanish all over Mitchell’s Plain.

And the resultant costs to the City of Cape Town continue to pile up.

Residents claim that the covers continue to be stolen, leaving openings posing a danger to motorists and pedestrians alike.

Ernest Sonnenberg, mayoral committee member for utility services, confirms this.

“[Drain cover theft] has been a problem since there has been a market for stolen metal. However, City infrastructure is being targeted more and more. Theft of metal water and sanitation infrastructure continues to rise throughout the city. While this rise has not been pronounced, the level of theft is steadily diverting more and more resources away from service delivery,” Sonnenberg says.

He explains that latest statistics for metal theft across the city confirms cast-iron manhole covers are the most sought-after item for metal thieves.

A total of 3606 of these covers were stolen across the city last year.

“This is an increase of over 21% if compared with 2013, when 2979 manhole covers were stolen,” he says.

Manhole covers cost about R2500 to replace and water meter covers about R1500. It is not clear how many missing covers are currently unreported in these areas, so one cannot estimate the cost to replace covers in Mitchell’s Plain.

But Sonnenberg says this problem is not unique to Mitchell’s Plain. Replacing stolen covers amounted to nearly R13.5m across the city last year alone.

“One cannot ignore the effect of gangsterism and drugs and the fact that this, in many cases, is the driving force behind metal theft. Residents can help combat this scourge by reporting these cases to the City’s metals theft unit with any tip-offs that could lead to the apprehension of those involved in the illegal metals trade,” Sonnenberg says.

Sonnenberg says the covers will be replaced as soon as resources allow.

But in order to further curb trade, the City will replace stolen covers with either hinged ductile iron covers or polymer covers which have no scrap value.

“We hope that this will curb thieves and save the ratepayer millions of rands,” he says.

In a statement released in February Sonnenberg said the move came to “replace metal thieves’ favourite item”.

All of the manholes in new developments across the city are also being fitted with hinged ductile-iron covers and frames.

“The cumulative cost to the City due to metal theft is R40.3m since January 2012 to the end of last year. In this period we had to replace nearly 18 000 individual assets across the city.

“In the case of manhole covers, one should also bear in mind the danger that their removal poses to residents and the consequential costs of blockages due to inappropriate objects landing up in our sewer pipelines when the manhole covers have been removed,” Sonnenberg said in the statement.

The older manhole covers are made of cast-iron. Metal thieves steal these covers, break them up with hammers and sell the material off as scrap metal.

The cost to fit a polymer plastic cover is R500 each and that of a ductile-iron cover up to R7500, inclusive of the labour.

It is significantly more expensive to fit the latter as the ductile-iron cover fits into its own frame with a hinge and therefore the maintenance teams first have to remove the existing frames for the old iron manhole covers before they can fit the ductile-iron manhole covers.

The depth of the manholes across the city varies from 1 metre to 8 metres for those that are situated in hilly areas.

If one survives the fall into an open manhole, the chances of survival are very slim due to the poisonous gases deep down in the sewer pipeline and sewage flows of up to 700 litres per second in some of the larger sewers, Sonnenberg says.


The City urges residents to report any suspicious or illegal activity to the metals theft unit’s hotline on 0800 222 771. Any missing manhole covers should please be reported to the City’s call centre on 0860 103 089 or by sending an SMS with the location of the problem as well as a short description to 31373

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