15 November 2023
Every morning before Thumeka Mahaba can leave for work, she has to use a spade and a bucket to scoop piles of sand from the front door of her shack.
Hers is one of about 80 shacks at Vosho informal settlement in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, that have been affected by a sand mining project nearby.
“I struggle to open the door of my shack every morning. I go to work covered with sand,” said Mahaba, a teacher at GoodHope Educare in Enkanini.
“The sand spoils my groceries and food, and it goes into my water bucket. It covers everything in my shack. The bread that I’m eating now is sandy, but I can’t throw it away because I’m hungry,” she told GroundUp.
“The sand goes into my ears, eyes, nose and mouth while I’m asleep. I store drinking water in small amounts because it gets filled with sand,” Mahaba said.
The affected Vosho shacks are perched on a large sand dune which has been nicknamed Plattekloof after the suburb in the north where homes overlook the city.
In May, GroundUp reported that the sand mining company, Maccsand, had been granted a permit by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy in 2018, before most of the shack dwellers occupied the area. The permit expires in 2024.
The City of Cape Town’s deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for Spatial Planning and Environment, Eddie Andrews, had said in 2019 the City had granted the company permission to remove the dune. However the permission had lapsed in October 2021.
The City said more than 300 families had been moved from the mining area to land near Baden Powell Drive in 2020/21, but the shacks that remain close to the site would only be moved in early 2024.
Now the affected shack dwellers are demanding that the company’s mining operations be halted until the City relocates from the area.
Mzwakhe Matshoba, who chairs a committee overseeing the relocation of the shack dwellers, said: “The sand may kill or harm the residents. I asked the company not to dig sand and drive heavy vehicles close to the shacks, but it continues to do so.”
Another resident, Mamusa Makoatle, lives with her mother and six-year-old daughter. She said her situation became worse in September. She has had to make a barrier to keep the sand dune from caving in over her shack.
“I feel scared before I sleep at night, fearing the sand will collapse my shack while I’m sleeping with my baby,” she said.
Simphiwe Stuurman, who fixes electrical appliances for a living, said he was trapped in his shack a few weeks ago and one of Maccsand’s excavating vehicles had to remove sand from his shack so he could get out.
“The excavator damaged my shack and my belongings. It damaged my bed while removing the sand from my shack,” he said. Stuurman said his bedding, mirrors, TV and clothes are still buried under the sand and his shack is still inhabitable.
“If the company continues to work close to our shacks, they will tumble down to the site,” he said.
The City’s media office told GroundUp that officials continue to talk to the company over residents’ safety. The City says that the company has agreed to replace all of the damaged structures.
Construction on the site where the residents are to be moved is to start at the end of January and would be completed in 2024, the media office said. “The area is earmarked for upgrading in the next six years and forms part of the larger Enkanini informal settlement. A contractor is in the process of being appointed.”
Questions sent to Maccsand had not been answered by the time of publication.