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Falling to pieces: The disastrous state of towns in the...

Our Burning Planet


Falling to pieces: The disastrous state of towns in the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality

From left: Komani River water is contaminated with sewage. (Photo: Supplied) | Komani residents burn refuse at an illegal dumpsite. (Photo: Supplied) | One of the many dysfunctional streetlights in Hofmeyer. (Photo: Supplied)

Dilapidated infrastructure, no roads, constant electricity outages and sewage spills are the order of the day in the town of Komani.

Living in Komani and other towns under the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality is a nightmare.

All the towns in this poorly run municipality in the Eastern Cape are slowly becoming ghost towns as the municipality fails to deliver services and maintain the existing infrastructure.

Komani, the economic hub of the Chris Hani district and where the Enoch Mgijima municipality council sits, is the worst of all, with constant electric outages, sewage spillages, dilapidated infrastructure, pothole-ridden roads and piles of dumped refuse everywhere. Traffic and street lights are not working.

komani disaster enoch mgijima municipality
Damaged roads have left motorists fuming in Tentergate, a town in Chris Hani District Municipality, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

The Mzingisi Skweyiya Hall and Beer Hall in Mlungisi Township have been vandalised, as have the Mlungisi Stadium and Dumpy Adams Sports Complex. 

In the past six months, three of the municipality’s buildings burnt down, including a section of its budget and treasury building. The Enoch Mgijima municipality was formed after the amalgamation of Lukhanji municipality with Tsolwana and Inkwanca municipalities in August 2016.

Thulani Bukani, the secretary of the Independent Komani Residents Association, said the municipality had failed in all its constitutional duties and was incapable of providing any level of service delivery to the community.

komani disaster enoch mgijima municipality
Waste piles up in front of the Recycling and Buy Back centre at the municipal dumpsite in Komani, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

“We are living in a shell of what used to be a town. Institutionalised corruption is determined to finish off even the shell that we are left with. We are going through a special kind of barbaric act where municipal buildings are being burnt down every day with no one to account for such acts,” he said.

Komani resident Axolile Masiza said it is a nightmare to drive around Komani as there are potholes on all the roads.

“There is a street where the tar road was removed in town and it is still a gravel road a year later. Contractors are appointed to fix potholes — instead of fixing them they leave holes on the road,” he said.

komani disaster enoch mgijima municipality
One of the many broken streetlights in Hofmeyer,  a small Karoo town in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied)

Masiza said the burning of municipal buildings is shocking.

“There is no investigation going on [into] the burning of the town hall and other municipal buildings. We are seeing sewage spillages every day.”  

He said residents of Komani and Ezibeleni were calling for the municipality to be dissolved as it is dysfunctional.

komani disaster enoch mgijima municipality
The wastewater treatment plant in Komani is in a state of disrepair. (Photo: Supplied)

DA constituency leader Jane Cowley said rates collection is dismal and way below the requirement of the municipality.

“It has been in decline since the amalgamation of the three municipalities [Lukhanji, Tsolwana and Inkwanca] in 2016. Ratepayers are not receiving their regular accounts.”  

Cowley said property evaluations are adjustable depending on how much you are prepared to bribe the officials.

komani disaster enoch mgijima municipality
Komani River water is contaminated with sewage. (Photo: Supplied)

“There are mansions that cost tens of millions of rands in Komani that are valued at the same price as a humble house in the poorer parts of the town. The wealthier residents can afford to pay their rates and this wilful underpayment is unethical; it goes without saying that less income equates to less service provision.”  

Cowley said there is not one stretch of internal road in the municipality that is not degraded in some way. 

“Potholes in most areas are so extensive that new roads have had to be forged on sidewalks. Ordinary sedans cannot traverse some of the roads as the potholes are too deep and will damage the chassis of the vehicles.”  

komani disaster enoch mgijima municipality
Overflowing sewage outside a school in Molteno. (Photo: Supplied)

She said sewage spills are commonplace and residents say that these spills are affecting their health.

“In Komani, the residents of Westbourne and Mlungisi are exposed to sewage which flows into the Komani River alongside them. Some residents have to traverse this river in order to get to their places of work.”  

Cowley said in Ilinge, sewage is openly pumped from municipal sewage trucks into a dam alongside the village. 

The fire station is closed as there is no functional fire engine working at the Enoch Mgijima municipality. (Photo: Supplied)

“This dam overflows into the Swart Kei River which is used for irrigation purposes downstream.”  

She said the wastewater treatment works in Komani are being upgraded, but the budget for the works is far too small and the plant will become only partly functional. 

“The water flowing from the works into the Komani River is currently effectively untreated. There are residents with the requisite skills to manage the plant effectively, provided the government upgrades the plant completely. However, no budget seems to be forthcoming.”  

She said electricity cuts are an almost daily occurrence in Komani. 

komani disaster enoch mgijima municipality
Komani residents burn refuse at an illegal dumpsite. (Photo: Supplied)

“This is due to collapsed electricity infrastructure which has not been maintained in decades. Residents sometimes go for days without electricity, which not only damages electrical goods, but also costs millions in lost revenue and damaged cold chain products,” she said.

In other towns

Phumliso Ralana, a member of the Tarkastad Service Delivery Committee, said poorly built RDP houses, overflowing sewage and lack of refuse collections are some of the issues facing Tarkastad residents.

“We have applied for a strike, but we were not granted permission to strike. We can’t live under these conditions anymore,” he said.

Ralana said there are houses in Tarkastad that are still using the bucket system after more than 20 years of democracy.

komani disaster enoch mgijima municipality
Vandalised streetlights remain out of order, causing traffic jams and dangerous driving conditions in Hofmeyr. (Photo: Supplied)

Cowley said that in Tarkastad, residents in Zola Township live alongside the main pumphouse which is supposed to pump sewage to the wastewater treatment works. It has not worked in years. 

“Their streets and their yards are frequently flooded with sewage,” she said.

Molteno resident Mbuyiselo Matiwane said the amalgamation of the three municipalities is not working with the former Inkwanca municipality.

“There is no service delivery in Molteno and Sterkstroom. There is no waste removal, we have problems with water and electricity. The state of these two towns is going down. The roads are bad and the community halls are unusable and have since been closed,” he said.

Matiwane said municipal buildings are dilapidated and workers are paid, but no work is being done.

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A mast fell in Komani last year and has still not been fixed. (Photo: Supplied)

“When we say the amalgamation failed us, it means we have no platform to address these challenges with Komani being 90km away from residents of Molteno,” he said. 

Cowley said that in Molteno, the sewage bubbles up from sumps in the Dennekruin and Nomonde settlements and flows into the Stormbergspruit, which is also used for irrigation downstream. 

“This is also the only water access point for cattle in the township,” she said.

She said that in Hofmeyr, electricity remains a huge challenge. The substation requires upgrading, but there is no budget available. 

“Residents are often on single-phase electricity, which damages electrical appliances — this is if they have electricity at all. Trees have grown into electrical cables. These trees damage the cables every time the wind blows. Nothing gets done.”  

Cowley said community groups usually contribute to buying new street lights, particularly in areas that are unsafe at night. 

“The municipality has not replaced street lights in years.”  

At the time of publication, Enoch Mgijima municipality spokesperson Lonwabo Kowa had not responded to questions sent to him by Daily Maverick on Wednesday morning. DM/OBP

Absa OBP

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All Comments 7

  • Why did the majority of residents continue to vote for the same people and party that brought them to this sad situation? Civil society needs to come together and lay charges in terms of the Water Act, Waste Act, NEMA, municipal bylaws, etc. Komani (Queenstown) was such a beautiful town to drive through with a lovely park at the Hexagon and town outskirts. Strength to you.

  • It’s almost impossible to fathom. Either “the people” are feudal sheep, or there is a system of trickle down that is understood in the those communities – or at least the promise and hope thereof.

  • It is the same in so many Municipalities across South Africa –and Dlamini Zuma and her Department, responsible for such mess and destruction gets away with doing or saying nothing.

  • One thing bothers me about. THINK about it.

    There are nine provinces in South Africa.
    One of them is functional. Not perfect but MUCH better than any of the rest.

    Now this is where you must be honest with yourselves….

    Do you want to live in a successful province or one of the nine dysfunctional dumps? Think about your children.

    IF you want to live in a successful province try to emulate the SUCCESSFUL ONE.

    Now THINK about who to vote for. Do not get stampeded by paid-for-biased journalists who publish tiny items to get YOU to vote for failure.

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