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City of Cape Town slammed for negligence after Khayelitsha child dies in sewage drain

Grieving parents of the two-year-old Imthandile Swartbooi, (centre) Gcinumzi Mbadamane and Busisiwe Swaartbooi (black and blue mask) who drowned and died in a drain in Green Point Khayelitsha on Monday. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Grieving parents of the two-year-old Imthandile Swartbooi, (centre) Gcinumzi Mbadamane and Busisiwe Swaartbooi (black and blue mask) who drowned and died in a drain in Green Point Khayelitsha on Monday. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 31, 2021

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Cape Town - The Khayelitsha community is blaming the City after the death of two-year-old Imthande Swaartbooi, who drowned after falling into a sewage drain outside his family home in Greenpoint, Khayelitsha, on Sunday.

Residents say this was not the first time a child has fallen into the drain, but Imthande had been the first one to die “as a result of the City’s negligence in failing to fix broken, blocked and overflowing drains in poor working-class communities”.

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The child’s uncle, Nkosikhona Swaartbooi, said Imthande was discovered by his mother, Busisiwe Swaartbooi, who had been looking for him around the house.

Swaartbooi said the drain was right outside the family home, and had been left open by the City for a while. He said despite residents repeatedly asking the municipal trucks operating in the area to fix and cover the drain, the City had ignored their requests.

“After hearing of my family's tragic loss, the City immediately sent out its water and sanitation staff to fix the broken drain. Xanthea Limberg, Mayco member for Waste Services, called to inform that she’ll be briefing Mayor Dan Plato about this situation,” said Swaartbooi.

He asked how many children had to die in an undignified way before the City met its constitutional obligation to provide basic services to poor and working-class communities.

Malusi Swaartbooi uncle of the two-year-old Imthandile Swartbooi who drowned and died in a drain in Green Point Khayelitsha on Monday. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Police spokesperson Joseph Swartbooi said that, according to reports, Imthande’s body was discovered in a drain, and it was believed that the toddler had fallen into it.

Swartbooi said the victim was declared deceased at the scene, and the body was sent for an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

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Children’s Commissioner Christina Nomdo said she was saddened by the reports of children losing their lives as a result of preventable causes of death.

Nomdo said quality basic services were important to realise children’s rights and to achieve well-being. She said children deserve an environment in and around their homes where they could play safely.

“Sadly, we see legacies of apartheid separate development persist in some communities placing children at risk. More must be done by the government in partnership with parents to ensure children are protected from harm,” she said.

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She also emphasised that all adults must be vigilant and play their part in protecting children.

The Social Justice Coalition’s community organiser, Ntuthuzelo Vika, said Imthande’s death was the result of the failure of the City to fix blocked drains in their communities.

“The sad part is that black families are losing their lives every day, and we only know about a few ones that put these on social media,” said Vika.

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He said some could not even access their homes, and that their living conditions were disgusting. He said they have been doing more work to educate people on how to report drains and obtain references.

Limberg said she and Plato met with the Swaartbooi family on Monday, to personally convey their condolences on the tragic passing of their child.

Imthande Swaartbooi

She said the mayor indicated that assistance with burial costs would be available to the family.

“Each month, on average, the City replaces 300 drain covers across the metro. The City replaces stolen and broken cast-iron manhole covers with ones made of polymer plastic, as the material has little to no scrap value. However, this has not proven a sufficient deterrent, as these too are often removed,” she said.

Limberg said Plato condemned the theft and vandalism of City infrastructure, because it has serious consequences for communities.

SA Communist Party provincial secretary Benson Ngqentsu said the City’s authorities must charged with culpable homicide following the inhumane death of Imthande.

Ngqentsu said the incident exposed the DA-led City’s dismal failure to govern.

“Many, if not all, working-class townships in the city have a crisis of drainage, spilling sewage on the streets and potholes.”

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