MUNICIPAL DEATH TRAP
A mother’s grief — ‘They dug my son’s grave while he was still in crèche’
A family is demanding justice after their 11-year-old son died in a flooded trench at an unfinished social housing project in Wattville, Ekurhuleni at the weekend.
Speaking on Monday, Gogo Phakathi recalled her last moments with her 11-year-old grandson Luyanda, who died on Saturday, 10 February.
“The last time I saw him was on Saturday morning around 8am. He told me he was going to play with his friends at their usual spot. He said he would come back later and do his homework which was due on Monday and reminded me that I was due to collect my medication at our nearest clinic.
“While I had insisted on making him something to eat, he asked for R6, after which he went out to play.”
Two hours later, she said, Luyanda’s friends came to their house to report that a teenage boy, who was allegedly high on drugs, had pushed Luyando into a water-filled trench at an abandoned social housing project in Harry Gwala, Wattville. The project was implemented by the City of Ekurhuleni and financed by the Gauteng human settlements department.
A search was launched and Luyanda’s body was found in the flooded trench at the project.
Construction of the project began in June 2018, but almost six years later, it’s still incomplete. It has become a crime hub where teenagers smoke the drug nyaope while younger children swim in flooded trenches, according to ANC Ward 30 Councillor Kenny Ranyawa.
The cost of the project was estimated at R260-million, half of which was budgeted for the first phase.
“It was in 2021 when I took over as the ward councillor … the onsite contractor was dishonest and dismissed. We waited long until the next contractor was appointed,” Ranyawa said.
“[The company] Tefla [Engineering] came in last year in January and worked up until August. Unfortunately, they could not proceed, citing issues of budget and rollover of monies because the project is funded by the provincial government through the Treasury.
“As the councillor and committee member of Harry Gwala, we have been pleading with the relevant authorities to push the project to completion.
“The unfortunate thing is that when the project was left vacant from August last year to date, the security also had to vacate because they were not paid. And that’s when the community started vandalising the project.
“In the area where [Luyanda] drowned, the contractor left the place fenced but [the fence] was stolen, leaving it exposed.”
Ranyawa said Luyanda’s death “could have been avoided. The project should have been completed by now.”
He said new contractors had been appointed and were expected to start work this week.
‘We demand justice’
Luyanda’s mother, Nolwazi Phakathi, told Daily Maverick, “They dug my son’s grave… Had the trench been covered or danger signs put up, I would still have him with me. That project started long back when he was still attending crèche.
“I blame whoever initiated it and left it as is. We demand justice for my son. He died a painful death and he had bruises on his forehead as if he had hit something very hard.”
On Monday, the trench where Luyanda died was still uncovered and unfenced.
Gauteng MEC for Human Settlements Lebogang Maile visited the Phakathi family and said authorities would investigate.
“We are concerned as the provincial government, because this project is implemented by the municipality on our behalf. We came with the MMC and other senior officials from the province and municipality to assess what can be done.
“We are happy that there is a contractor that has been appointed who will be starting work tomorrow,” he said on Monday.
“But we are concerned about the state of the incomplete project. We will be having a follow-up discussion with the municipality so that we can solidify a plan of fast-tracking and accelerating this incomplete project. Working with the municipality, we will get to the bottom of what has happened.
“The municipality has estimated the project to be complete in two years but we would want to make sure it’s shorter than that.”
Gauteng police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Mavela Masondo said the “police investigation is continuing”.
“Police have opened an inquest docket after an 11-year-old child drowned while they were swimming in stagnant water following heavy rainfall in Wattville. It is reported that children were swimming when one of them disappeared into the water. A police search and rescue team was summoned and retrieved the body of the victim.”
Luyanda will be buried on Saturday in Daveyton. DM