/ 6 September 2007

Khutsong sinkholes: Govt waits on more information

Provincial and Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi is waiting for more technical information before deciding on action on Khutsong’s sinkholes, his ministry said on Thursday.

The minister was waiting for more detailed information on Khutsong, said the minister’s acting spokesperson, Thokozani Mtshali, when asked about national government’s position on the situation.

He said no timeline was yet available for when the minister would receive the information and then be in a position to comment.

Earlier, the Merafong municipality under which Khutsong falls said the government needed to act to avert a sinkhole disaster.

”[The government is] moving at a very slow place,” said municipal spokesperson Seabo Gaeganelwe.

Surveys have found that 90% of Khutsong fell within extremely high-risk zones and meant that it was not suitable for human settlement.

Gaeganelwe warned earlier this week that ”the tragic incident in the 1960s when 37 miners and a family of five disappeared into a sinkhole in Carletonville never to be found is a reality likely to recur [in Khutsong]”.

On Thursday, he said nothing had changed at Khutsong, despite an imminent geological crisis.

”Khutsong remains unsafe and a potential mass grave for residents.”

Gaeganelwe said the situation was not suitable for people to stay there, and experts had said people should be evacuated immediately.

However, without assistance from national government, the municipality was just moving people on a week-by-week basis as their houses cracked or sinkholes appeared around them.

”Almost every week houses are cracking or sinkholes [appearing].”

Most recently a family was moved out of a seven-roomed house to old commando offices.

”These are not families we have budgeted to create houses for,” said Gaeganelwe.

He said the government needed to declare the area a disaster area to allow all spheres of government to intervene.

A ”financial commitment” from the government to help with the sinkhole crisis was also needed.

Gaeganelwe said the municipality had been asking since 2004 for the area to be declared a disaster.

It has been ten years since a 1997 report commissioned by the municipality first identified the problem of sinkholes in the area.

The report found that 90% of Khutsong fell within extremely high risk zones and effectively meant that it was not suitable for human settlement.

Another report came out in 2003, confirming the findings from 1997.

In 2003 a five-year relocation plan was submitted to all spheres of government.

About 3 600 formal households, 15 000 informal and 6 500 ”backyard” households need to be relocated.

The total cost of this resettlement was estimated in 2004 at R1,5-billion — R2,2-billion on current values, including community facilities and bulk services.

At the moment, besides relocating people on a case-by-case basis, the only other action the municipality was taking was the installation of certain recommended pipelines in the area.

The municipality last met with the national government on Tuesday this week about the situation. — Sapa