Pedestrians walk past a manhole cover for a sewer in Berkeley, Calif., Thursday, July 18, 2019. Soon students in Berkeley, California will have to pledge to "collegiate Greek system residences" instead of sororities or fraternities and city workers will have to refer to manholes as "maintenance holes." Officials in the liberal city this week passed an ordinance to replace some terms with gender-neutral words in the city code. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Cape Town - Stolen and damaged manhole covers cost the city a staggering R5.7 million in the 2018/2019 financial year

Mayco member for water and waste Xanthea Limberg said anyone caught with a manhole cover would be considered to be in possession of stolen property and arrested.

“The city is also working to minimise the appeal that theft holds by replacing cast-iron covers with ones made of material with little or no scrap value,” said Limberg.

Last year, 1304 stolen sewer manhole covers were replaced with polymer plastic covers.

The Weekend Argus came across two open manholes on Mount Street, near the District Six Community Clinic. One was filled with rubbish, while the other’s cement cover had been removed and used to cover belongings stored inside the manhole.

Passer-by Shawn Fortuin said besides manholes overflowing, if they are full of rubbish and it rains, it poses a huge risk to people who may not know the area at night.

“Even during the day, you could maybe be distracted by something and not expect the hole to be in front of you. Someone could fall in there and get hurt badly and land up in hospital,” said Fortuin.

He added that this was a sorry state of affairs as people were also using the manholes to store their belongings. “I don’t know what the city can do about this besides maybe installing cameras to monitor the area.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology student Sipho Nuse said the filling up of manholes with rubbish was unsanitary and it was hard to walk past them without a pungent smell knocking you.

“I walk down here often (Mount Street). It is close to residence for students and we walk past here at night and it is really dangerous for us,” said Nuse.

The city experiences around 300 sewer blockages each day across the metro and the majority are as a result of residents misusing the sewerage system, rather than infrastructure defects or a lack of capacity.

Some of the common causes of blockages/overflows are rags, nappies, tampons and sanitary pads, wet wipes, condoms, general litter, building materials and the build-up of cooking fat/oil.

“With regard to cooking oil/fats, when these are poured or flushed down your sink and drain, they harden and build up on the inside of the sewer pipes and act like glue, attracting rags, hair, paper and other debris.

“The hardness of these blockages can also make them very difficult to clean out,” said Limberg

The Wastewater and Industrial Effluent By-law states that no person may discharge substances into a municipal sewer that will interfere with the free flow of sewage.

“Unfortunately, as long as residents continue to abuse the system, blockages/overflows will continue to occur on a daily basis. The sewer reticulation system is only geared to accept toilet waste (urine, faeces and toilet paper) and sink/basin/bath waste,” said Limberg.

The city replaces stolen and missing covers when they are reported and logged on their service notification system. To report missing sewer manhole covers, call 0860103089 or 0800656463.

Weekend Argus