Two years ago, Hout Bay teenager Marco Isaacs was bitten by a rat while sleeping.
At first, the bite to a toe seemed innocuous enough. His mother, Audrey, took him for an injection at the Main Road clinic, and it was thought this would be enough to prevent further infection.
However, it soon became clear that Marco, who suffers from spina bifida, would need further treatment, and he was admitted to Victoria Hospital in Wynberg. Unfortunately, the move proved to be too late, and doctors had no option but to amputate his left leg below the knee after the infection spread.
Barely a year later, and the Isaacs family was struck by further tragedy when they lost everything in the devastating fire that displaced more than 10 000 people in Imizamo Yethu.
This necessitated they be relocated from Dontse Yakhe, first to the emergency displacement area at the Hout Bay sports complex and later to the Depot temporary relocation area (TRA) at the bottom of the informal settlement.
While relieved to have a roof over their heads at the TRA, they have begun to notice that the rats that plagued their existence in Dontse Yakhe are increasingly prevalent in the area – something Ms Isaacs attributes to rubbish piling up.
“We had rats all the time in Dontse. Now that we are here (TRA) we see they are coming back.
They are coming into the house,” Ms Isaacs said. “My son is scared because of what happened, so now I let him sleep with me on the bed. He is 17 years old now.”
Nontsikelelo Martel, of green watchdog, Thrive Hout Bay, has held information sessions with the community on how to recycle organic waste rather than placing it in refuse bags. During these engagements, she has also been told of children being bitten by rats as rubbish collects in various parts of Imizamo Yethu.
While rubbish bags were picked up by City of Cape Town contractors from a collection point just outside the TRA, this was not always the case inside the area, Ms Isaacs said. However, it was hoped the situation would improve as Extended Public Works Programme workers had recently been introduced to collect the rubbish.
Despite Dontse Yakhe rising from the ashes of last year’s fire, health risks stemming from scattered rubbish and sewage remain a huge problem.
For Thembisa Nganga, who runs the Zizamele Daycare Centre at the crest of the informal area, the presence of two large rubbish containers has presented its own challenges.
A powerful odour permeates the air, despite much of the rubbish housed inside the containers.
“This smell is not good for the kids,” Ms Nganga, who has run the creche for seven years, said. “The containers are not emptied every day, but the problem is that these containers are not only being used for Dontse Yakhe. Rubbish from all parts of IY is brought here. We live with the smell all the time.”
The children frequently became ill, and this was exacerbated by uncollected rubbish blowing in the wind.
“I have asked people from the City to move the containers, but they said they can’t because it will interfere with the electricity lines.”
A little further down the hill in Dontse Yakhe, a man has started his own recycling operation on an empty plot alongside his home. Here, he separates glass and cardboard, and transports it away in his bakkie every morning. But given the huge amount of rubbish in the settlement, his task seems to have no end.
Two Hout Bay residents, Camilla Wilson and Tjarla Norton, have sought to engage the City of Cape Town on how to improve the rubbish and sewage situation in Imizamo Yethu, believing that “no human should live in such conditions”.
During a site visit, Ms Wilson pointed out drains established at the Depot TRA, which, while emptied three times a week, continue to present a significant health hazard.
“People pour their water they use to cook and wash down these drains. They are emptied, but they still overflow frequently.
“Children then play in the dirty water and get sick with stomach bugs and diarrhoea,” she said.
Another large green container is found near the TRA, but seemingly it is seldom used.
“This container was at the Disa TRA, but the City placed it right in the middle of the living area. The residents complained, and it had to be moved. But now it just sits here.”
Ms Wilson said in recent weeks, rubbish collection seemed to have improved, but she was still concerned not enough was being done to alleviate the health risks, particularly for children.
Ms Martel hoped to see more of a co-ordinated effort in tackling Imizamo Yethu’s rubbish issues.
“Various organisations host clean-ups and recycling projects, but these need to be coupled with the City’s efforts and the community getting more involved. Rubbish is a huge problem,” she said.
City spokesperson Jean-Marie de Waal said officials were looking at the matters raised by Ms Wilson and residents.