“These people are under siege.”
This was how the DA’s BCM chairperson Vaughan Holmes described the East London suburb of Stoney Drift. With a triple threat of pollution, illegal electricity connections and a high crime rate, such a statement might not be as exaggerated as it seems at first.
Holmes took the GO! & Express on a tour of the Stoney Drift area last week Thursday, starting with a hike through the nearby forested area and along First Creek River.
As one gets closer to the river, the smell of raw human sewage becomes almost unbearable.
“The sewage has been an issue for many years. I spoke to residents in the area who told me the stream has been polluted with sewage for more than 10 years,” said Holmes.
According to Holmes, the smell was actually better than usual that day because the municipality had apparently fixed a leak that had been running for the past two years.
However, there were obviously more leaks out there and sewage was still running into the river.
“I reported the previous leak to the municipality and accompanied officials to the stream to show them the leak. It took about six months for them to attend to that leak though.
“The problem was apparently that the sewage overflows because of theft of infrastructure and the problem cannot be repaired without first switching off the power supply and removing the illegal electrical connections to make the area safe to work in,” Holmes said.
In addition to the sewage problem, the GO! & Express also noticed large amounts of rubbish dumped in the river, as well as in several other spots around Stoney Drift. Adding to the litter problem is the fact that municipal garbage collection is often irregular.
Holmes claimed that the municipality has made no effort to remove or monitor the various illegal dump sites that have sprung up in the area.
As if having to put up with a polluted stream right in their backyards wasn’t enough, residents of Stony Drift also live in fear of the rampant use of illegal electricity connections that criss-cross the suburb.
While examining the First Creek River, the GO! & Express saw a number of illegal connections wrapped around the trees through the forest, many of which were fairly low to the ground.
In town the illegal connections weren’t even hidden, with some telephone poles having as many as 10 ten wires branching off them.
Some of these wires had come loose and hung down at head-height, still fully live.
One house was even seen to have wires over their driveway, making coming and going a potentially deadly endeavour.
One resident, agreed to speak to the GO! & Express on the condition of anonymity, said she’d had problems with the illegal connections for many years.
“One day, when I went to investigate after I hear a noise in the trees, I found a guy sitting in the tree connecting wires.
“I told him ‘You can’t do that, there’s kids here’,” she said.
The resident said the person was threading the wires through a long pipe and using a makeshift metal hook to keep them in the air.
In a nearby gutter, the GO! & Express found a split length of hosepipe and a wire hook, which had been used to hold the illegal connection up until recently.
The woman said she has to constantly watch out for her children in case they wander near one of the many live wires.
“At night, I can see the flames [sparks] in the grass. It looks like Christmas,” she said.
According to the woman, she can’t even take the matter to court because of the risk to her safety and that of her family.
“I can’t go to court because then I’m on the front page and these people go, ‘Oh we know her’ and then what’s going to happen to us?”
While the municipality is aware of the illegal connections and the dangers they pose, the woman said little is being done about it even after multiple complaints.
During GO! & Express’s Stoney Drift visit, the hijacking of a Star Bakery van that had taken place mere hours before their arrival, was brought under their attention.
A witness, who asked that their name be withheld for their safety, said the truck was delivering bread when it was attacked.
“I was on the front verandah picking up the children’s toys when I heard this truck coming down the road making a lot of noise. I thought there it was something wrong with the engine motor or clutch,” she said.
Another witness, who also asked to remain anonymous, said she saw the robbers hold the drivers hostage while they took over R20,000 from the truck.
“They had guns to the backs of their [the drivers’] necks. They told the drivers to get in the back of the truck and then they locked the drivers in the back of the truck,” she said.
The GO! & Express has sent a list of questions to BCM regarding the situation in Stoney Drift but at the time of publishing, no response has been received.