In the small town of Stutterheim, the poorest of the poor compete with pigs for scraps at the sprawling public dump.
Weekly water and electricity outages have become the norm, and no traffic light has worked for a year.
Fearing complete collapse of day-to-day operations, local business owners are paying hundreds of thousands of rands from their own pockets to safeguard ageing infrastructure which is regularly vandalised.
Pollution in the rivers has raised ecological concerns, not only for Stutterheim but also East London.
Nowhere is the desperation more felt than at the town’s main dump site.
Huge piles of rubbish that include congealed nappies, electronics parts, bottles and rusted tins extend for 50m and beyond in every direction. There are even large pieces of broken road, the result of a failed road reconstruction project in Stutterheim, littering the entrance to the site.
But it is the sight of humans sifting through the piles of garbage as pigs compete for the same scraps that brings home the reality of the town’s pitiful state, a year after it was rocked by violent protests over allegations of nepotism and maladministration in the Amahlathi municipality.
A piece of earth-moving equipment and a compactor were torched in the mayhem. The shells of the machinery lying on top of the rubbish mounds serve as a stark reminder of that turbulent time.
“This dump is a ticking time bomb,” said 76-year-old resident Warren Donaldson, shaking his head as he pointed out a heap of smouldering garbage.
“It is an ecological disaster waiting to happen. The small steam at the bottom of the dump flows into the Cumcala River, which joins up with the Kubusie River, which feeds into the Wriggleswade Dam, which supplies East London. It’s frightening what could happen,” Donaldson said.
When Daily Dispatch visited Stutterheim on Tuesday, an electricity pylon lay on its side, cut off at the base and stripped for its copper cables. The vandalism knocked out the town’s power supply for hours.
The main electricity substation has not been spared the attentions of cable thieves either. An upgrade of the power network this year has also been scuppered, with battery chargers and cabling stolen.
The centre of town still tells the sorry tale of last year’s protests. The shells of the razed municipal offices and clinic blight the main business district. Broken traffic lights that have not been operational for a year are another indicator of a town plunged into dysfunction.
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BY: JOHN HARVEY