Building homes on dangerous ground
Sinkholes abound, yet land earmarked for houses
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.