Kimberley - Barkly West stinks as unmaintained infrastructure, broken-down municipal vehicles and a general lack of basic service delivery have left streams of raw sewage flowing in the streets.
Residents are demanding swift and decisive action as the failing sewerage system is causing unpleasant living conditions and poses a public health threat.
Calls have been received from patients at the Prof ZK Matthews Hospital complaining of overflowing drains at the complex, while the Northern Cape Department of Labour on Thursday shut down one of the primary schools in the area to avoid risking the health of teachers and pupils.
Last week, parents of pupils from Barkly West Primary were informed that the school would be closed until further notice following a visit from a health inspector from the Department of Labour.
“The health inspector visited the school after receiving anonymous complaints regarding sewage at the school,” read a letter sent out by the school’s headmaster on Friday. “After this inspection, we were given a written instruction to cease all activity at the school until the problem has been resolved.
“The municipality has given its assurances to fix the problem as soon as possible.
“We know that the current situation is to the detriment of education and we hope it is remedied quickly.
“We apologies for the inconvenience but we can’t work under these conditions.”
On Saturday, the spokesperson for the Northern Cape Department of Education, Geoffrey van der Merwe, confirmed that Barkly West Primary School was closed early on Thursday due to fact that teachers and pupils were exposed to sewage on the school premises.
“The school was also served with a prohibition notice by the Department of Labour, effective from Friday, as the situation is hazardous to teachers and pupils.
“The department is busy engaging Dikgatlong Municipality and do hope that the situation will be resolved over the weekend, so that schooling can commence as from Monday (today) in a safe and conducive environment for teaching and learning.”
While members of the community of De Beers Hoogte welcomed the decision to close the local school, many were adamant that this decision by the Department of Labour should be the first of many interventions on the part of local government.
The residents over the weekend called for the matter to receive immediate attention, saying that the impact of the raw sewage extended beyond the school and neighbouring households and was to the detriment of most day-to-day activities in the Dikgatlong municipal area.
“We can’t just close our eyes and pretend there isn’t a problem,” said one resident. “When I wake up, it stinks. When I go to sleep, it still stinks. It’s been like that for ages and nothing gets done. It doesn’t even help to complain to the municipality.
“The rubbish is piling up on the banks of a river of sewage that runs throughout our community. The whole town is suffering.
“I’m glad that they closed the school to fix the problems there but our children can still get sick by just staying at home.
“Barkly West is not a pleasant place to live at the moment and until the Dikgatlong Municipality does what it is supposed to and delivers services to the people, we are all in the k*k.”
A long-term resident of Barkly West, Corrie Bergh, said that over the years service delivery in the area had gone from bad, to worse, to non-existent, leaving the town in an unsightly state and risking the health of residents and forcing them to endure the revolting stench.
He added that for almost half a century he had been watching the condition of the Vaal River, flowing along his property, deteriorate from a pristine body of water to a health hazard for both people and animals alike.
“Things are particularly bad when it rains and the canals overflow,” he explained. “There are areas in town where public toilets aren’t available, so when people need to do their business, they go in the canal that runs directly into the river.
“I have lived in Barkly for 40 years and can recall the river being so clear that you could see the rocks at the bottom and the fish swimming in the water.
“Over the years, it just got worse and worse. The waste flowing into the water has stimulated plant growth. This causes the reeds and weeds to flourish and take over, compromising the wellbeing of the community and wildlife.
“Water Affairs has been here before to inspect but after that one visit, I never saw them again.”
According to Lize le Roux, the local chairperson for AfriForum, the absence of basic service delivery has left the town in a state of disarray, while calls for the Dikgatlong Local Municipality to intervene fall on deaf ears.
“There are many shocking stories coming out of Barkly West due to the lack of service delivery,” she said on Sunday. “Schools have had to close their doors while the patients at the hospital have been forced to receive medical treatment under the most unpleasant conditions.
“There is also raw sewage flowing at the four-way crossing at Mataleng and De Beers Hoogte, which then goes on to run straight into the river.”
Le Roux added that AfriForum was investigating the matter and was likely to follow up on the community’s concerns in the upcoming week.
“Barkly’s sewage problem is widespread and affects most of the residents,” she said. “For two months now, there have been no sewage nor refuse trucks servicing the municipality and this has just caused the problem to get worse and worse.”
The spokesperson for the Northern Cape Department of Health, Lebogang Majaha, confirmed that the department is aware of the concerns raised by the patients at the local hospital and that the service provider had been on site since Wednesday to address the matter.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Department of Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs (Coghsta) in the province, Xhanti Teki, referred media enquiries to the Dikgatlong Local Municipality, who could not be reached for comment.
“All municipalities in the province should be preoccupied with accelerating delivery of basic services to the community,” Teki added.
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