Addo residents demand that “killer” canal be closed

| Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik and Siphesihle Matyila
Since 1984, about 18 people, including 16 children, have died in or near this canal at KwaNomathamsanqa location in Kirkwood. Photo supplied by Makukhanye Rural Movement.

Residents of Paterson, Addo, Bersheba, Uitenhage and Thornhill have threatened to close down the Sundays River Valley Municipality in Addo if a canal which they say is killing their children is not closed within seven days.

Since 1984, about 18 people, including 16 children, have died in or near the canal at KwaNomathamsanqa location in Kirkwood.

Nokuzola Nkone lost her four-year-old son Xolela in 2004. Xolela was crossing the canal when he fell into it and died.

“This is a painful wound that no one can take away from me. What pains me more is that kids are continuing to fall in that canal and there’s nothing I can do to stop that,” said Nkone.

“Every time I hear of a child who fell in that canal, I remember my Xolela. It brings back all the sad memories,” she said.

Nkone said the municipality had not responded to requests to close the canal.

“It’s clear they do not care about us. We went to their offices asking them to close the canal, but they kept on telling us that they do not have enough money to close it,” she said.

On Tuesday, about 400 residents from different locations marched to the municipality, the Lower Sundays River Valley Water User Association and the local office of the Department of Social Development, demanding closure of the canal within a month, compensation for the families of those who had died, and better play areas for children.

This was a follow up to the march held in August.

The march was led by an NGO called Makukhanye Rural Movement. Siyabonga Modikoe, chair of the Movement, said, “The canal is a danger to the community.”

“People are being raped and killed then their bodies get dumped in that canal. Lots of crime is happening in that canal and the municipality seems to be doing nothing about that,” he said.

He said children played next to the canal because there was no playing field in the area.

“All we want is for the canal to be closed so that kids can be safe.”

Modikoe said the fence along the canal had been stolen and the municipality was blaming the community.

“They keep on telling us that they do not have money to close the canal,” he said. But the Lower Sundays River Water User Association 2014-15 financial statement showed a surplus of more than R2 million and interest of R863,904 on investments, he said.

“This is about the death of innocent people and we would appreciate it if they also looked at it in that way,” Modikoe said.

In a letter replying to the memorandum handed to him in August, the Chief Executive Officer of Lower Sundays River Water User Association, Hans du Plessis, stated that “multiple” efforts had been made in the last 10 years to tackle the problem.

He said the canal was essential to supply water to the settlements along it and to other users.

“Closure of the canal is unfortunately not a viable solution, as this would make future maintenance and operations in the areas of the canal virtually impossible. This would also be an extremely costly venture. The canal is 5,7 metres wide at KwaNomathamsanqa and borders the settlement for about 4.5 kilometres. Where would the funding be obtained?” asked Du Plessis.

He said it would be more cost-effective to replace the fencing which had been removed and to “educate” the community. “They must be aware that the fence is there for their benefit and protection.”

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