'We want a fresh start', say #KhayelitshaShutdown picketers over water woes

2019-04-11 15:57
(Jenni Evans)

(Jenni Evans)

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The shutdown strategy of protesting shifted to Cape Town's Litha Park on Thursday where residents blocking key intersections in Khayelitsha complained about what they say is inaccurate water billing and disconnections over disputed amounts owed.

"One person owes R1m," exclaimed Nonzwakazi Duda, who was part of a group of women sitting on cement bollards dragged into the middle of the road. 

Their protest came as several other parts of South Africa also saw protests and burning barricades such as in Pretoria West.

Clashes with officials over the alleged illegal occupation of land took place in Lwandle, near Strand, not far from Khayelitsha. In Lwandle, police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana said eight people had been arrested, but none in Khayelitsha.

SCROLL: Shots fired as police clash with residents in Pretoria West

With the flames of a burning barricade behind her, Duda said residents were fed up with getting estimates instead of proper readings and wanted new water metres installed to get accurate readings. 

"We want a fresh start," she said.

For her and her pensioner husband, and the two other people who reside with them, an estimate of R500 eats into their South Africa Social Security (SASSA) grants.

As a pensioner she was entitled to a concession on water, and did not mind paying for services, as long as the billing was accurate, Duda said.

The blockade started early on Thursday morning with rocks, cement pieces, broken glass and rubbish bags neatly laid out on Spine road, a major thoroughfare to Cape Town. Many staffers called in to say they could not get into work, and others worked from home.

Bus and train services were disrupted and taxis opted for back routes, with the occasional stressed driver pushing through the flames and glass.

Only one political party T-shirt was spotted near the barricades.

When the Metro Police arrived, the line of matriarchs in shweshwe skirts and floral dresses guarding the barricade laughed and said: "Guys, we want to thank you for helping us block the road".

One of the organisers, Tower Sinama, said Thursday's blockades come after several attempts at addressing the water problem directly with Mayor Dan Plato, with whom a delegation had met twice in the past. 

He said Plato missed an appointment in March with them, and after that they could not get any more feedback on their complaints over water charges from the City of Cape Town.

A protest followed at the Stocks and Stocks municipal walk-in centre, followed up with petitions, which Sinama said was "all in vain".

That is when they decided to carry out the #KhayelitshaShutdown in the area on Thursday. The shutdown itself centred on Litha Park, Lingelethu East, and Spine Road that runs through that part of the suburb.

Other parts of Khayelitsha were seemingly unaffected by barricades by mid-morning, although there was some burnt debris at some stop streets.

The DA in Western Cape blamed the ANC for the protests and safety and security MEC Alan Winde tweeted: "SAPS must act against ANC-manufactured violent protests."

Public Order Police waited at some corners, and Cape Town's Law Enforcement division blocked roads for detours around the pockets of pickets.

A teacher said the school she worked at sent pupils home early as a precaution, with a letter for their parents to explain the situation.

READ: City of Cape Town offers to help residents who cannot pay rates and services

Further away from the demonstrations, children played in a park, school children wandered around listening to music on their headphones, and shops were trading.

Sinama said they had secured a commitment mid-morning on Thursday from the City of the Cape Town that a delegation would meet them on Tuesday, April 16, at the local Methodist Church, headed by Bishop DD Mtsolo, who is also the chairperson of the residents group raising the water issues.

"[Mayor] Dan Plato phoned the chairperson today and he said, listen Bishop, we will meet you on Tuesday at 9:00," said Sinama.

He said they were asked to bring their water bills along to the meeting so that they could be analysed. 

Plato was not immediately available for comment, as he was spending the morning in Dunoon, near Table View to hear residents' concerns about service delivery and to take part in a clean-up campaign.

In March, deputy mayor Ian Neilson said the city had made R3bn available for rates rebates for the indigent, and that residents who are struggling to pay must make representations to the city for instalment arrangements. He said disconnections were a "last resort".

In the meantime, Sinama said that the water bills in Litha Park "keep going up", and he was of the view it might also have something to do with neglected water leaks.

The bills range from between R800 to R3 000 a month, besides the pensioner who received the R1m whopper. 

"When people are angry, they do things they shouldn't usually do so they burnt some things," he said, as a taxi crunched over some glass nosing his vehicle on to a pavement to get around the barricade. 

Ethel Sobantu told News24 that only a few houses per street have water metres. Those who do have them get estimates, and in her case, the estimate is extremely high.

She suspects that she is being billed for a part of the street erroneously, instead of just her home's consumption.

"They wanted me to pay R23 000," she said. 

In response to the complaints, water and waste mayoral committee member Xanthea Limberg said if residents have confirmed no leaks on their property and the high bill is not linked to high estimates, it is likely their meter is faulty.

"In these cases residents should have their meters tested," she said.

The resident pays for the test, but if the meter is confirmed to be faulty the resident is refunded for the test. 

If bills seem incorrect they can checked via the municipality's walk-in centres, or via accounts@capetown.gov.za.

If there is a leak on a property due to residents not maintaining their plumbing, the city offers rebates that can help residents who experience leaks for the first time.

Residents registered as indigent will have leaks fixed by the municipality on their behalf, and scrap all their debt. This is a one-off and residents must maintain their plumbing to avoid a repeat.

Residents who do not qualify as indigent, have one chance where the city shares the cost of the leaked water with the resident. Underground leak rebates can only be given for three months' worth of water lost as a result of the leak.

She said approximately 268,000 of Cape Town's households receive 10.5kl of water a month free as part of a social package, plus another 175,000 "informal" households.

"Protests of this nature have been held previously in this area and the city has made a concerted effort to assist the residents," she said. The city had been discussing follow-ups to these complaints as recent as Wednesday to discuss the logistics for Plato's meeting next week.

As the morning wore on, the intersections started reopening, and Metro Police offices shovelled smouldering rubble on to the side of the road and guiding motorists through.

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Read more on:    cape town  |  service delivery  |  protests
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