Teenager’s drowning highlights broken promises in Kliptown

Families living in crumbling houses near the river bank say Gauteng government promised to relocate them years ago

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Residents watch as police and Johannesburg Emergency Management Services recover the body of a teenage boy believed to have drowned in the Klipspruit River in Kliptown, Soweto during heavy rains earlier this week. Photos: Silver Sibiya

  • Families living along the banks of the Klipspruit River in Kliptown, Soweto say they want to be given proper housing because their homes are dilapidated and flood every rainy season.
  • This comes as police and Johannesburg Emergency Management Services recovered the body of a teenage boy believed to have drowned in the river during heavy rains earlier this week.
  • The residents who live in the old, crumbling houses in Kliptown say they are tired of waiting for the government to fulfil its promises of decent housing.

The safety of families living along the banks of the Klipspruit River in Kliptown, Soweto has been brought into question after a teenager is believed to have drowned there during the recent storm.

On Wednesday, scores of residents gathered at the river as the body of the 18-year-old was recovered from the water. Johannesburg Emergency Management Services (EMS) and police’s Water Wing are yet to release the identity of the teenager because his family is yet to be notified.

The teenager is believed to have been swept away during heavy rains on Tuesday afternoon. “The people who were there when he fell told us he is about 18 years old. We nor the police have yet seen his birth certificate [or ID],” EMS spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi told GroundUp.

Gauteng Police spokesperson Mavela Masondo said an inquest docket has been opened. “The body of the 18-year-old boy who allegedly drowned in Soweto on Tuesday was recovered by emergency services. The matter is currently being handled by police for further investigation.”

Residents living near the river are now pleading with the municipality to do something about their living situation because they say each year people drown or have near drowning experiences during heavy downpours. Most of the homes were built years ago by occupiers but are now badly dilapidated.

“There is always something like this happening here. Last year there was a baby who drowned. The year before that, another boy was found in the river. This area for me is not safe,” said resident Hazel Lewis, who joined onlookers as the teenager’s body was being removed from the area.

Betty Harrison told GroundUp she has lived in the area most of her life. She said, given the opportunity, she would leave the area because their homes flood every year.

“I was born here and when our grandparents died, we just took their houses. It means when we die then our children will continue to stay here and suffer the same floods we face every year,” Harrison said.

Kliptown residents Betty Harrison (left) says she inherited this dilapidated house from her parents while Ellen Ramahata (right) says is among community members who want to be relocated from the area.

She said while her home had not flooded during the heavy rains this week, the teenager’s death was a reminder of their disastrous living conditions.

“Every year we experience flooding. The councillor promises us houses in another area but it never happens. They just give us food parcels and that’s the end of it,” she said.

Another resident, Patricia Mabuya, said her son lives in one of the crumbling houses with cracks in the walls and holes in the roof. There was still a pool of water in his house when GroundUp arrived.

“He doesn’t sleep in the bed. He sleeps sitting in the chair when it floods. It’s very bad,” Mabuya said.

Ward 17 councillor Dwain Pronsonby (Patriotic Alliance) said the Gauteng Provincial Government was the implementing agent on the housing issues and Johannesburg Roads Agency was responsible for stormwater maintenance.

“I was there on Monday when there were floods. We really need to help residents. They say they were previously promised houses and believe I should be the one giving them answers, but it’s not up to me,” he said.

Residents say that apart from the nearby Walter Sisulu Square – declared a national heritage site in 2019 – there is very little evidence of the memory of the township’s role in the struggle against apartheid.

The City’s failure to maintain drains in the older parts of Kliptown leads to regular flooding during the rainy season.

In April 2022, GroundUp reported that the City of Johannesburg had committed to reducing the housing backlog. The City said this would be done through the Sector 2 project, for which the Gauteng Provincial Government was the implementing agent.

The City said its Housing Department “remains committed to reducing the backlog” and has allocated R21.7-million in the 2022/23 budget to the Kliptown Urban Renewal Programme.

Questions sent to the City and provincial departments of human settlements about the progress of the Sector 2 housing project went unanswered by the time of publication.

Patricia Mabuya shows that her son’s house near the river is crumbling and has cracks in the walls and holes in the roof. There was still a pool of water in his house when GroundUp arrived.

TOPICS:  Housing

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