Building homes on dan­ger­ous ground

Sink­holes abound, yet land ear­marked for houses

Saturday Star - - NEWS - SHEREE BEGA

IT’S hard to miss the skull on the large con­crete block ly­ing nearly top­pled in the veld in Mar­lands, near Ger­mis­ton.

The dan­ger sign war ns vis­i­tors that this land over­grown with weeds is an old mine shaft, but even it is fall­ing into a sink­hole.

But be­hind the sign, and along­side the nu­mer­ous cav­ernous sink­holes that swal­low the earth, con­struc­tion work­ers em­ployed by the Ekurhu­leni metropolitan mu­nic­i­pal­ity are lay­ing the foun­da­tions for about 300 new hous­ing struc­tures.

This is where, over the next few months, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity plans to re­lo­cate sev­eral thousand im­pov­er­ished res­i­dents of the nearby An­gelo in­for­mal set­tle­ment.

Jean du Plessis, a DA ward com­mit­tee mem­ber for safety and se­cu­rity, looks out­raged. As he dodges the sink­holes, he cites the death of 5-year-old Richard Thole, who fell into a nearby dis­used mine shaft in Jerusalem in­for­mal set­tle­ment last month.

“How are you go­ing to keep a child out of these sink­holes, or the open mine shaft over there?” he says, frus­trated, point­ing to the open shaft, en­tan­gled with weeds.

“This is an old mine, the ground is poi­sonous. And there’s a rail­way line 200m away. People can’t live here.”

In 2015, Liv­ing Africa Prop­er­ties se­cured a court or­der to re­move the res­i­dents of the in­for mal set­tle­ment for devel­op­ment as it is lo­cated on pri­vate land.

But the DA claims the “safety of the soon-to-be res­i­dents can­not be guar­an­teed as no en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment has been con­ducted” on the land where they will be moved.

“The metro should have stopped all work on the land and con­ducted an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment, ge­o­graph­i­cal study and a dolomite study to en­sure the res­i­dents’ lives will not be at risk,” main­tains Tiziana Plaskitt, the neigh­bour­ing ward coun­cil­lor.

A pub­lic meet­ing on the re­lo­ca­tion with lo­cal res­i­dents, in­clud­ing from An­gelo in­for­mal set­tle­ment, DA coun­cil­lors and mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials is be­ing held to­day.

“The metro will no doubt say there’s no obli­ga­tion to con­duct such a study if people are be­ing placed tem­po­rar­ily; how­ever on dis­cov­er­ing the mine shaft and sink­hole, while clear­ing the land, one would have ex­pected it to place the safety of the res­i­dents first given the tragic events that hap­pened at the Jerusalem in­for­mal set­tle­ment not too far away from this site.”

She found out “by ac­ci­dent” two weeks ago that this land would be used for the re­lo­ca­tion of res­i­dents from An­gelo in­for­mal set­tle­ment.

“Although the land falls in ward 21, it bor­ders ward 92 and ward 33 (Mar­lands and Wit­field ar­eas) and will af­fect these com­mu­ni­ties.

“Yet no pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion was done with these com­mu­ni­ties per the emer­gency hous­ing guide­line.”

The trans­ac­tion it­self was sus­pi­cious, she be­lieves.

“The land where they want to re­lo­cate the res­i­dents was pur­chased by Liv­ing Africa Devel­op­ment from Crown Gold Re­cov­er­ies for R112 074.

“It was then sold to Ekurhu­leni for R12.1 mil­lion – the trans­fer of both sales trans­ac­tions hap­pened on the same date.

“In ad­di­tion, the deeds num­bers are chrono­log­i­cal.”

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity told the Satur­day Star it would re­spond fully next week.

Look­ing out at the site, Mike Wa­ters, the deputy chief whip of the DA, charges that the mu­nic­i­pal­ity “didn’t put people’s safety first”.

“There is plenty of land in Ekurhu­leni that is suit­able. I don’t know what they are wasting money for and putting people’s lives at risk.”

Ash­ley Hoods, a lo­cal coun­cil­lor, agrees.

“They are moving these people from a dan­ger­ous place to an­other. An­gelo in­for mal set­tle­ment is sur­rounded by open mine shafts.

“We’ve had re­ports of people thrown down here. Now you are bring­ing that prob­lem here, and that’s not a so­lu­tion.”

A 2011 re­port by the then-Gaut­eng Depart­ment of Agriculture and Ru­ral Devel­op­ment re­vealed how 1.6 mil­lion im­pov­er­ished people in Gaut­eng lived on mine residue de­posits, sin­gling out the dan­gers of ground in­sta­bil­ity and the col­lapse above aban­doned mine work­ings and around open mine shafts that pre­sented a “dan­ger” to nearby in­for­mal set­tle­ments.

Plaskitt says “Zama Zama turf wars” within the An­gelo in­for­mal set­tle­ment “could be am­pli­fied by the re­lo­ca­tion.

“The Zama Za­mas in the Mar­lands area are con­tin­u­ally break­ing the sewage pipe to clean their gold in this area. This con­stant sewage over­flow will af­fect the res­i­dents.”

She says that two ur­gent mo­tions will be pre­sented to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity at this week’s coun­cil meet­ing.

“We’re re­quest­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the sus­pi­cious pur­chase of the land (and) that a ge­o­log­i­cal study, en­vi­ron­men­tal study and dolomitic study be done to en­sure the safety of the land be­fore re­lo­cat­ing res­i­dents here and that the sink­holes and open mine shafts be closed.”

In the An­gelo in­for mal set­tle­ment, Pa­trick Mamothama, says he has not heard about the re­lo­ca­tion.

“I’ve been liv­ing here for 23 years.

“I am tired of liv­ing in a shack,” he shrugs.

“But I don’t want to live in a dan­ger­ous place any­more.”

Ekurhu­leni Coun­cil­lor Tiziana Plaskitt says the pro­vin­cial govern­ment wants to move res­i­dents from An­gelo in­for­mal set­tle­ment to stand por­tion 230 of farm 87 Drie­fontein.

Where some of the new houses will be built.

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