Children play next to sewage puddles, dead rats in Langa

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Two young children in Langa play near a dead rat and a puddle from overflowing sewage near their home.
Two young children in Langa play near a dead rat and a puddle from overflowing sewage near their home.
Mary-Anne Gontsana
  • Residents of Langa complain about overflowing sewage in the area.
  • One resident says the drain outside her home has been blocked for two years.
  • The City has blamed regular blockages on residents placing foreign objects into the system.

The stench of mouldy sewage and large ponds of murky stagnant water are the first things that hit you when entering Zone 23 in Langa, Cape Town.

"Not a day goes by where I don't have my door open because of the smell," resident Khanyisa Xhegwana told GroundUp while sitting on her couch watching her two-year-old and friends playing outside her hostel room.

"Those drains outside have been blocked since 2018. I report, the officials come, they look, they do nothing, then tell me that they will return.

"Sometimes I have to buy a cooldrink to actually get them to do something instead of just looking at the drain and then leaving. But I haven't seen them since 2018. It's difficult to even cook because of that smell and the flies," Xhegwana says.

Xhegwana uses a big brick and a blue wooden board as a makeshift bridge over the pool of water to get to her backyard.

"This is our daily lives in the zones. The more we try to stand up and do something about it, the more disappointed we get because we get no help from the City of Cape Town, not even from our own ward councillor," says community leader Fundulwazi Langa.

Children playing near dead rat

Walking through the streets of Zone 23, we spot a dead rat next to yet another large puddle of dirty water. Just a few metres away, two young children are playing next to the water in front of a green shack.

Langa says Malusi Booi, Mayco Member for Human Settlements in the City of Cape Town, has visited the zones and knows about their situation "but all Booi does is give us promises, but he never fulfils them".

He says "the biggest problem is lack of development. We have people who have been living here for 30 years and more, who are still living in hostels that were made for men to share back in the day."

Langa says all eight zones in the area struggle with regular blocked drains while some parts still had no electricity and constant water disruptions.

City plans to upgrade hostels

Booi says the City has plans to upgrade the hostels and four consultants have already been appointed. They are still working on the designs and other technical aspects of the project, which will be presented to the Hostels Forum and various communities for consideration, Booi says.

He says the City had begun engaging with the community before lockdown. "The planning and implementation of hostel upgrades is guided by the availability of funding to the City."

He says for the next phase of the hostel upgrade an estimated 660 new apartments will be built on the Special Quarters and New Flats sites in Langa, costing some R320 million.

Regarding the blocked drains and lack of water in some of the hostels, Mayco Member for Water and Waste Xanthea Limberg says in most cases, abuse of the sewer system is the cause of blockages or overflows.

Sewer system 'abused'

"Teams attending to blockages commonly discover builders' rubble, nappies, sanitary pads, condoms and tyres, along with general litter from the system when clearing blockages. These blockages are exacerbated by the disposal of cooking fats into the system, which hardens as it cools and acts like glue for the other materials in the line," she says.

She says current blockages will be investigated and addressed. Limberg says the intermittent water supply in Langa could be due to a number of reasons, such as a limited allocation for the day or that illegal cross connections are affecting water pressure. "A team will be dispatched to investigate and take remedial action if an infrastructural fault is discovered," she says.

She has also urged residents to report matters and to play their part in raising awareness of sewer abuse.

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