Kanaal, a community that feels forgotten

Xolani Koyana visits an Oudtshoorn informal settlement ahead of the local government polls.

The Kanaal informal settlement in Oudtshoorn. Picture: Xolani Koyana/EWN.

Charles Hendriks will be voting in his fourth elections as a resident of Oudtshoorn's Kanaal informal settlement next month.

The 2009 general election, the local government elections in 2011 and the recent national elections in 2014 all came and went with the promise of a better life that never materialised.

In fact, Hendriks feels things have become worse.

Hendriks, a father of one, stands a few metres from his shack. It's built on a slope. When it rains heavily, it is battered so badly he fears it will slide down the hillside.

"The poles break off, my shack is moving. I give it three months and [when] summer time comes it will fall. Another drop of water and that shack will go down. It will be there," Hendriks says pointing in front of him.

He indicates a muddy spot a few metres from us where all the storm water runs when it pours.

From where we're standing, it's hard not to pick up the pungent smell of urine and human faeces that hangs in the air in the informal settlement.

"I have a young baby, a month-old. What's going to happen in the summer? Sickness, that's all we'll get. It's really bad."

Hendriks, along with others, relocated in 2008 to an area about six kilometres from the CBD. It later became known as Kanaal because of its close proximity to a water canal.

Kanaal is on the edge of the residential area in the greater Oudtshoorn area just behind Bongolethu. Its inhabitants moved from backyard dwellings in the old Bridgeton, Toekomsrus and Bongolethu.

"We were the first shacks here, before Riemvasmaak (now Rose Valley). We are here for a very long time, but we are forgotten here. Oudtshoorn is a tourist attraction, all the tourists are going through Riemvasmaak and that's why they are building there. But we are here behind the eyes and no one worries about us."

Another resident, Jan Malgas, appreciates the municipality installing electricity and communal taps for them. At the same time, however, he still feels the locals have been neglected by politicians and officials. That's because the communal toilets erected by the municipality are almost unusable.

Many are out of order, while some have been marked with an X in red and white paint by the municipality, indicating they are unsafe for children.

The container in Flip Baartman's toilet has not been collected for some time. The bucket has built up so much waste over the past months, it's practically useless.

A communal toilet in the Kanaal informal settlement. Picture: Xolani Koyana/EWN.

Baartman and his elderly mother have resorted to using 20-litre plastic buckets to relieve themselves.

"They leave us here, they've thrown us away," a visibly irate Baartman tells me.

"The municipality [officials] never come here to look at these problems at Kanaal, GG Kamp, and Black Joint. Every time I go there to complain they always say they will do that when they have time and when the toilets are here in Oudtshoorn, but that never happens."

The tarred road to Kanaal, past the neighbouring settlements of Black Joint and the settlement known as the GG Kamp, is riddled with potholes. It goes up an incline to the formal township of Bongolethu (meaning "our pride").

In Black Joint, children play next to a filthy canal which has clearly not been maintained for months.

When the heavens open up, some of the shacks closest to the canal are not spared from the flooding, with many of the structures getting waterlogged, locals tell me.

Like Hendriks and Baartman, many of the residents say they have lost faith in the municipality.

These people suffered the most when services ground to a halt because of a political power struggle in council between the ANC on the one hand, and the DA and its allies on the other.

The council was in such a disarray that councilors failed to pass the budget on four occasions last year.

At one point, political party representatives were held hostage in the council chambers by people in the public gallery, apparently because they could not decide on the municipality's financial plan for that year.

There were rumours the 'rent-a-crowd' was there at a behest of a senior member of the executive.

The DA will tell you the ANC caused the shenanigans which led to the collapse of the municipality, while the ANC will blame the DA for all the problems in the Little Karoo town.

Nonetheless, because of the antics in council and the failure to separate the administration from the political executive, the municipality found itself with a R160 million budget deficit. In addition to this, it owes R310 million to suppliers and others.

Several companies have successfully sued while others are currently headed to court to recoup monies owed to them.

Local government specialist Kam Chetty has for the past 11 months been tasked with stabilising the municipality, or as he calls it, get it out of ICU. The administrator and his team have been able to reduce the municipality's debt by R40 million rand in the past seven months.

Chetty was appointed by the national and Western Cape governments last August to look after the municipality after it was placed under administration.

He traveled to the community last month to accept a memorandum delivered by residents of Kanaal, GG Camp and Black Joint. He describes their concerns as 'genuine' and says they have not been properly addressed for several years.

Chetty stresses the incoming council has to adopt and follow his strict recovery plan, to ensure the municipality is out of the red. With sound and fiscal management practices, the municipality could be back to normal.

Still, an environment that requires austerity may result in service delivery being constrained.

It could take another five or more years before Hendriks and other residents of Kanaal, GG and Black Joint see any improvement in their communities.