Under water for two weeks: Cape Town’s Covid informal settlement

Residents fear disease could break out from the human waste in the water

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Covid informal settlement has been under water for two weeks. Photos: Sandiso Phaliso

  • Covid informal settlement was formed when thousands of people occupied land in Driftsands, Cape Town, during the hard lockdown in 2020.
  • The area is prone to flooding and has been under water for two weeks now after heavy rainfall in the Cape.
  • As the area has no formal sanitation service, residents fear the human waste captured in the flood could pose a serious risk to their health.
  • The Western Cape government department of infrastructure, the custodian of the land, says people will be relocated in phases, starting with those who put up shacks on a dam wall.

Families that illegally occupied land in Driftsands, Cape Town, to form Covid informal settlement have been living for three years without basic services such as tap water, sanitation or electricity. Worse still, the settlement has been flooded, knee-deep, in some places chest-deep, for two weeks now because of the heavy rainfall in the Cape.

Located on what was until last year the Driftsands Nature Reserve, the settlement stretches from Old Faure Road to Mfuleni, just across from the Mew Way N2 off ramp. The Kuils River runs through the settlement and has breached its usual banks. Some homes, just metres from it, have had to be abandoned. There is also a dam that has overflowed.

Community leader Rogers Mfati estimates there are about 15,000 shacks in the settlement (GroundUp has not verified this). The various sections include Dubai, Burundi and Sanitiser.

Cingephi Mditshwa and his fiancé, Nomakuthini Dlakavu, were trying to bail the water out of their shack with buckets when we visited. They worry that the water could be contaminated and disease could break out.

“This is a scary situation,” said Mditshwa. “I feel hopeless and helpless.”

In the parts that are not flooded, there is human waste visible in almost every alley between the shacks, where people relieve themselves at night.

Resident Tobani Liduli said he worried about people drowning. Four boys recently got into trouble but were rescued.

The City of Cape Town said one of its biggest challenges are newly formed informal settlements “in dams, ponds and wetlands”.

“City officials are on the ground and continue to do their utmost to help residents by constructing canals to lead flood water away from affected areas where possible, and monitoring high risk priority areas,” the City said. It has also provided sandbags “where feasible”.

The City said the Western Cape government had tried to encourage people to “voluntarily relocate to another piece of land within the Driftsands area”.

“We can’t move because we don’t have money to transport material or buy new material, let alone hire people to build our homes,” said Mfati.

“We don’t even know the land they say they have identified for us to move to,” he said.

“We want the City and the Western Cape government to engage us on short and long term goals for this settlement … We want nothing for us without us involved in negotiations,” he said.

Like other community leaders of informal settlements, Mfati mentioned the R111-million grant that human settlements minister Mmamaloko Kubayi said she had allocated for the provision of basic services for informal settlements in Cape Town.

“We know there is more than R100-million that has not been spent this financial year of which we are part of the beneficiary projects,” said Mfati.

But the City has stated, in a media release on 9 June, that it has spent 99% of its informal settlement grant funding, and Kubayi’s grant had been “received unexpectedly” “on the eve of financial year-end”.

The City said it needs approval from Treasury to legally use the funds. It also said Kubayi had requested that R50-million of the R111-million be used for relocating people who had occupied the central Metrorail line.

Muneera Allie, spokesperson for the Western Cape government, said that as of 1 April 2023, the Department of Infrastructure is the custodian of Driftsands, but the City is responsible for the provision of basic services.

Allie said a joint operations committee had been formed with the City.

“Relocation efforts will take a phased approach, starting with communities situated on the dam wall structure and adjacent to the Kuils River. Once the dam wall is cleared, necessary maintenance can occur caused by damage from current residents.”

Community leaders say the low-lying area is prone to flooding.

TOPICS:  Disaster Housing Sanitation

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