JOHANNESBURG - Residents of Khutsong on Gauteng's West Rand live in continual fear of their homes caving in due to large sinkholes which suddenly appear despite promises by the Merafong Municipality last year to fix and address the issue.
In 2017 Health-e News published a story about the sinkholes in the area that were causing damage to the drainage system and leading to the collapse of buildings.
“We have received R118 million in funding that will only be used to rehabilitate the previous sinkholes and the infrastructure damaged by those sinkholes over the next three months,” the Merafong municipality said last June.
However, nine months have passed and little has been done - and the problem has only become worse, much to the distress of local residents.
“Since the sinkhole collapsed, the drainage pipes have broken and water does not move through the system anymore,” said Mbongeni Skosana, whose yard has fallen into a sinkhole.
“We heard the municipality said they had R118 million budgeted to fix the problem, but we are still living with sinkholes and broken sewers all around us,” he said.
The municipality last year told Health-e News that they were going to move people like Skosana to another area while they find solutions to fix the sinkholes. But again they failed to follow up on their promises. “We are still here. Our kids can not even play outside because the sinkholes and contaminated water is dangerous to them,” said Skosana.
According to Makashule Gana of the Gauteng Legislature, Merafong Municipality is losing almost 50% of the fresh drinking water it purchases as it is unable to fix sinkholes, water leaks and collapsing bulk water infrastructure.
“It is a grave shame that water losses are not adequately addressed in a drought-stricken and sinkhole-prone municipality,” said Gana.
“Ageing infrastructure, such as the old asbestos cement pipes, cannot sustain pressure bursts which leads to further water losses and contributes to the formation of sinkholes,” said Gana.
“Houses are falling apart because of the sinkholes,” he said, confirming that he also knew about the R118 million budgeted for the problem.
“Nothing has happened in that community, it is actually getting worse and worse,” he said, adding that many homes had sunk into the ground and sewage networks were overflowing in the streets, posing major health risks to the community.
“Residents have been severely neglected and have suffered enough,” he added.
According to the Merafong municipality, the rehabilitation of the nine projects under the short-term grant funding of R118 million were completed and a close out report on this was submitted to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and the Provincial Disaster Centre.
However, Bridget Mkhontwana, the Merafong Municipality communications officer, said that the two projects relating to the rehabilitation of the sinkhole and infrastructure at stand 590 Khutsong, affecting six adjacent properties could not be completed. This was due to resistance of the affected community.
“The contractor was forced to withdraw from the site and the funding for the project had to be diverted to the other priority projects, seeing that it was a condition of the grant that the money be spent within the three months, ending 30 June 2017,” said Mkhontwana, admitting that the sinkholes have resulted in massive water losses.
“The municipality is experiencing a serious challenge with water losses which on average is above 40%,” said Mkhontwana.
Commenting on the way forward, Mkhontwana said the municipality has submitted business plans for funding of disaster management rehabilitation projects in excess of R300 million.
“The implementation of projects depends on the approval of funding through government budget processes,” she said.