In Izinyoka, a township of Port Elizabeth, residents have been living in raw sewage for weeks after a pipe burst inside the yard of one of the residences. The spill has flooded through five houses and residents say the municipality has been made aware of this problem but does not act “swiftly”.
“The sewage pipe bursts here in Izinyoka four times a month, and every time we have to wait for weeks before the municipality can come fix it. Our children wake up to the smell of raw sewage, we can’t even eat because of the smell,” said resident Boniwe Heshu.
She added that when the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality’s blocked drain and sewerage department would eventually come, residents affected by the sewage were not given a drain-cleaning dip to neutralise the smell.
“We have to live in this smell for days before it’s gone,” she said.
Another resident affected by the flow of raw sewage is a 60-year-old grandmother who was one of the first residents in the area.
“I live with my grandchildren here and they have to wake up in the morning and walk on urine. I had to lift my cupboards, washing machine and fridge and place them on top of bricks because the sewage runs through my house. My house is one of the first houses built here and I suspect that the builders never erected a foundation,” said Bukelwa Klaas.
“I need help in this situation, even if I am relocated. That would be fine because at night I could hear the water flow like an open tap under my house. If a huge flood were to hit this area, my house would be swept away. I am afraid one day this house will eventually cave in while we are asleep,” she added.
Residents say that when the drain bursts, the area becomes a sewage river. “Here is green slime across the streets, indicating the lengthy flow of this sewage,” said Heshu. It is affecting their health, say residents. And when they contact the municipal call centre to lodge a complaint, which they do daily at times, they are told that vehicles have been dispatched. But weeks pass and no one arrives.
A municipal worker said the call centre receives calls from residents all over Port Elizabeth, but in his view the department seems to be overwhelmed.
“There are five of us working in four different townships. Right now, Izinyoka is not on my list because complaints pile up and I have to attend to complaints lodged months ago,” said Vuyolwethu Siwa from the sewerage department.
Residents add that there are still infrastructure problems in the area, including incomplete roads.
“We still walk on gravel paths here, no tar roads were built in between certain streets,” said Heshu. This contributes to the sewage problem. “The water flows through houses, on to the gravel path and creates a huge puddle near a park where children play. The councillor of the ward, Nomazwi Sonti, and the ward committee know about this recurring problem, yet nothing is done,“ Heshu added.
The Izinyoka township, its name synonymous with the description for cable theft, is a former shack settlement. Residents have had to fight tooth and nail over the years for efficient basic services , and the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) has been criticised for building poor-quality housing in the area. Residents say contractors knowingly built houses on top of a sewerage drain as the government uses cheap contractors indifferent about the quality of their work.
“We are heading to the local government elections soon and you will see these political parties and councillors only coming to us then. But when we need services, they are nowhere to be found,” said Klaas.
A few houses away from the sewage-ridden area, a resident who has occupied an abandoned house has dug a hole to self-install a water pipe. He occupied the home when its previous owners left because of their dissatisfaction with inadequate basic services in the area.
“The house was being vandalised when I first encountered it as it was vacant, so I contacted the owners, who were more than happy to give me the house. I am now installing a water pipe for the house and the toilet. I called the municipality several times, yet till today they have not come. We can’t even use the toilet and have to use our neighbours’ toilets,” said Vuyani Mpolweni.
Residents in the area say the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has neglected the area and this has resulted in many of them deciding not to vote in next year’s municipal elections.