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MUNICIPAL MESS

Eastern Cape floods — municipality ignored repeated calls over 23 years to upgrade stormwater drains

Eastern Cape floods — municipality ignored repeated calls over 23 years to upgrade stormwater drains
Several houses within the Sakhisizwe Municipality were damaged by rain and floods on Sunday. (Photos: Supplied)

For 23 years, Dr Fani Ncapayi got up at every integrated development plan meeting held by the Sakhisizwe Municipality and asked that the municipality clean the stormwater drains in his town. It never happened. On Sunday, he was washing his car when the rain started, and his prediction of disaster came true.

There were small disasters along the way, but nobody listened.

When the flood came, the town was not ready.

The rain was not unexpected. It is, after all, as Garth Sampson from the SA Weather Service put it, “thunderstorm season”.

“I came to Elliot in 2000,” Dr Fani Ncapayi said. “I have complained to the municipality about them not cleaning the stormwater drains for 23 years. First, I never thought about floods. I was more concerned about stagnant water standing at people’s houses. 

“Nothing was done. Not even a little bit. In February 2022, when they said they had no money and no equipment to clean the drains, we said: ‘You have workers. They can do it.’ They started once or twice, but come 4pm, they would lie next to the road and the work would not be done.”

For years, he said, residents had been using their own money to dig trenches and do what they can. “We no longer follow the regulations,” he added.

“In February 2022, we met with the municipal manager to raise our concerns about the drains and the river. We said they should do something. They said they didn’t have the money. We said, ‘You have employees who can clean.’ They didn’t even do that.

“In November, we had serious floods here.”


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On Sunday, Ncapayi was washing his car when it started raining. “It stopped, but then the WhatsApp messages started. My neighbours up the road were flooded. We later heard that a dam wall had broken,” he said. 

On Monday, they were at the municipality to complain. “The municipal manager wasn’t there. We met with the mayor and another official. We asked them what their plans were. The mayor didn’t know.

“We knew that the team from the Chris Hani District Municipality was here over the weekend. I said to the mayor: ‘This is not new. We have been raising this issue for 23 years.’ We said, by 4pm, we wanted to see that something was being done. They sent workers, but by 4pm, they were lying down on the side of the road. The furrows still were not cleaned.”

At a later meeting, the mayor tried to dodge the crowd, Ncapayi said. “We forced the mayor to talk to us. The explanation we got was that they tried in November, but the machine broke. They told us we should have told them the work wasn’t done.

“‘You had to check,’ the mayor said. That just made us very angry.

“The damage is huge. The water didn’t come into my house, but it was at the level of the verandah. My motor gate is dead, some houses flooded, people lost furniture, floors were destroyed. We want to sue.”

Now the community is gearing up for a major meeting on Thursday, 16 February.

Since 2018, residents of the Sakhisizwe Municipality, where the towns of Elliott and Cala are situated, have been fighting for better municipal services with the help of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies. A ministerial task team was appointed.

One of the things they were fighting for was an upgrade and maintenance of the stormwater drainage systems. A few days before devastating floods hit their towns, they again appealed to the MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Zolile Williams, to intervene.

Pheello Oliphant, the spokesperson for Williams, said disaster assessment teams were working flat-out to ascertain the extent of damage following heavy rains in the province. 

Province-wide, four people have been confirmed dead.

The worst affected districts are the Chris Hani District, around Komani, and the Joe Gqabi District. Elliot falls under the Chris Hani District.

Floods and weather damage were also recorded in Aberdeen and Klipplaat in the Karoo.

Williams said the work of the assessment teams was being hampered by damaged infrastructure, including roads and bridges. 

“We have difficulty in accessing some of the affected communities due to roads that have become dongas and bridges washed away. We thank the Gift of the Givers, Red Cross, and other NGOs for the relief support they continue to render to alleviate the plight of our people,” Williams said.

The provincial Department of Human Settlements has made available 100 temporary shelters in Enoch Mgijima Municipality to attend to the families housed in community halls. 

Williams said the province was still recovering from floods that had occurred over the past decade. DM/MC

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  • virginia crawford says:

    Take a walk around Johannesburg: all the drains are visibly blocked by leaves and sand. I saw water shooting out of a stormwater drain in Linden! If you want to live in a leafy suburb, it doesn’t mean sweeping the leaves into the gutter! Neighborhoods should band together to protect their drains – easier than clearing flood damage.

  • Pet Bug says:

    But in four national elections and in four local authority elections, the same useless party was voted back in…?
    Don’t think residents have much of an argument to stand on.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Uneducated, living in appalling conditions, and literally brainwashed by unscrupulous leaders to be distrustful of anything “not black”.

    With only frying pan and fire parties remaining for them to vote for – what actually do we expect?

    The poor of this country deserve sympathy, not derision and we should be doing absolutely everything in our power to enfranchise them because it is good for all in this country to do so.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    We need criminal action against the municipalities, those in charge of them, the corrupt contractors for negligence, poor quality of work as well as hold them to be vicariously liable for the damages incurred. The notion that the public funds are a piggy bank for corrupt political leaders and their associated criminal elements in the name of BEE must be put to an end. We cannot have negligence of maintaining infrastructure or employment of incompetent contractors to be allowed to go unchallenged. In the US, these disasters have implications for those in charge not only for negligence but also for being unprepared and they are followed with massive civil litigation and criminal investigations. It is time that we do so in this country so that those who neglect infrastructure to benefit through the disaster declaration out of the misery of our people must finally know that there is a price to pay for negligence and corruption. We have as a country allowed this to go unpunished for too long. The abuse of limited public funds during these disaster is massive.

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