Durban - Nothando Ngema fears for the health of her unborn child.
The 20-year-old, who is five months pregnant, lives next to piles of uncollected refuse and is greeted by its powerful stench in the morning. When she goes to sleep at night it’s the last thing she smells.
Ngema is one of many residents in Durban’s Cato Crest informal settlement who believe their children are at risk from the rubbish festering outside their homes.
This week the residents threatened to barricade the N3 with burning tyres unless the municipality cleared the rubbish.
The shack-dwellers told the Daily News that the municipality last collected rubbish from them before the elections.
Mzamo Majozini, who lives in a mud shack, said: “The municipality used to pick up the garbage, but they stopped cleaning after the elections. It hurts us as the dirt affects our children.”
The father of two said he often had to take his children to the clinic, claiming the rubbish was making them sick.
It lies in two big piles which residents of the informal settlement must walk past to get to their homes.
He claimed that refuse collection ceased after shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo announced it was supporting the DA in the national elections in May.
Njongo Majola, 20, another resident of Cato Crest, said: “We feel very bad about the problem. We voted, but we do not get help and have not seen any change. No one likes to live in such squalor.”
He said it would be a step in the right direction if residents were supplied with plastic bags so they could help clean up.
“We are not looking for handouts, but we would like to get a boost in our efforts to get the place cleaned up. This is particularly bad for me as my house is directly outside the rubbish heap.”
Majola said he believed the municipality was deliberately neglecting them.
“The municipality is not looking after us” he said.
Majozini said if the issue was not sorted out, the community would protest. “We will close down the road and burn tyres if we have to get them to notice us.”
Ngema agreed with Majola and said: “We will even shut down the freeway if it comes to that.
“They must address these issues quickly and if they do not we will set tyres on fire.
“We are tired of this life of hardship.”
Ngema, who already has one child aged 5, and shares a shack with her aunt, has lived in the settlement since 2010.
The clearly agitated woman said: “The municipality is fighting us. This is a fight over development. When they moved us from the previous area, we asked them if we will still be receiving services. The municipality said we will be fending for ourselves. They then stopped collecting the garbage from us”.
The residents used to live a few hundred metres away from where they live now.
When the Daily News asked if the rubbish had affected her child’s health, Ngema responded: “How can a child not get sick in these conditions?”
She said they did not have clean water and the toilets they built were demolished by the authorities.
“Even the toilets we build are not allowed by the municipality. We lack clean water so we are forced to steal drinking water.”
Councillor Zwakele Mncwango, the DA’s caucus leader in eThekwini, said: “Government talks about priorities. Health is one of those priorities.
“How can you subject people to such an environment? Children will get sick.”
Ward councillor for the area Mzimuni Ngiba said: “People politic about issues not worth politicking about.”
Ngiba said rubbish was not being collected because residents were not putting it in the designated place and it was impossible for the contractor’s truck to reach the illegal dumping site.
“We built places where people can get rid of their waste. What those residents are doing is illegal dumping. I asked the contractors why they do not go to the place where the rubbish is being dumped.
“The contractor said cleaning an illegal dump is not part of their contract and it is the municipality’s job to clean illegal dumps,” he said.
Ngiba said whether the residents voted for the DA or ANC had no bearing on the matter.
“It is not written on their faces who is supporting the ANC and who is supporting the DA. They are just playing politics. That is what they are doing.”
In a statement, eThekwini Municipality communications head Tozi Mthethwa said: “The Durban Solid Waste Unit provides a standardised once-a-week domestic collection service to all residents within eThekwini Municipality.
“Unfortunately the residents within the Cato Crest area have been putting out their refuse daily and as a result there has been an accumulation of waste in the area.”
Mthethwa urged residents of Cato Crest to put out their refuse on Mondays for it to be collected.
She said a one-off clean-up was planned for this week.
The political affiliations of residents not were not taken into consideration by the municipality when providing services, said Mthethwa.