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By Stephen Tau

Journalist


‘Government has been slow to respond’: Heavy rains blamed for new sinkholes in Khutsong

The emergence of new sinkholes forces school closure in Khutsong.


As heavy rains continue to batter various parts of the country, residents from the sinkhole-stricken area of Khutsong in Carletonville, west of Johannesburg, are again raising concerns over their safety and that of their children.

This in the wake of more sinkholes developing in the area that has been described as a disaster.

While issuing weather alerts on Wednesday, the South African Weather Service (Saws) also expressed concern about the area in question, saying further rainfall in the coming days could even worsen the already dire situation.

ALSO READ: Weather warning: Another week of downpours hold severe risk to property, people

Speaking to The Citizen, one of the residents, Sello Tlhapi, said there was already one person who sustained injuries after falling into one of the sinkholes earlier this week.

“The man was just walking around in the township and the next moment, he fell inside one of the sinkholes in Peace Section.

“Government has also been very slow in their response to address this serious issue which is putting all our lives at risk,” said Tlhapi.

ALSO READ: Khutsong sinkholes: Municipality admits rehabilitation programme left too late

Watch: man being rescued from a sinkhole

This video is no longer available.

The situation has worsened in recent months, leading to some of the graves at a local graveyard also caving in.

One of the graves was that of Tlhapi’s mother.

Khutsong graves on the brink of being swallowed by sinkholes
Graves in Khutsong are on the brink of being swallowed by a sinkhole. Photo: supplied

“I managed to rebuild my mother’s grave as I could not wait any longer for government to come and assist,” Tlhapi added.

Schooling affected by sinkholes

Pupils also now fear for their safety after the emergence of a new sinkhole next to the Relebogile High School.

Supplied picture of the emergence of a new sinkhole at the Relebogile High School in Khutsong, Carletonville. The school has since been closed.

“We have been informed that the sinkhole at the school in question has affected toilets and left holes in certain parts of the school building.

“We are calling on the Gauteng Department of Education to send engineers to assess whether it is safe for pupils and teachers to continue using the school,” spokesperson for education for the Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng, Khume Ramulifho, said.

According to Ramulifho, the department said they will be looking to place pupils at churches and community centres around the area.

“I’m not sure if they have removed pupils as yet.

“The situation is really bad and very risky, especially as we are experiencing heavy rains,” Ramulifho added.

In response, the Gauteng Department of Education’s spokesperson Steve Mabona said they are working to improve the situation at the school.

“Unfortunately, pupils could not be placed anywhere as all schools in [Khutsong South] are full,” he said.

An urgent stakeholders’ meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

“The stakeholders include other government departments to provide a way forward and assist with mobile classrooms and placement of the said pupils as an interim arrangement,” Mabona added.

Khutsong - Sinkhole - West
Khutsong resident Rebecca Makgale next to one of the sinkholes in the township west of Johannesburg, 17 October 2022. Residents are living in fear as dwellings are being swallowed up by sinkholes. Pic: Nigel Sibanda

Ward councillor for the Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) in the area, Ben van der Berg, described the situation as a “fiasco”.

“No pupils were at the school when the sinkhole formed.

“The FF Plus is concerned about the safety of the pupils and has requested the department to relocate pupils temporarily as soon as possible,” said Van der Berg.

The party has also requested its member of the Gauteng legislature, Kobus Hoffman, to urgently take the matter up with the provincial department of human settlements.

Rain made sinkholes worse

Responding to media queries sent by The Citizen, director for Gauteng’s disaster management centre Jamila Ndovela said the persistent heavy downpours in recent days have exacerbated the situation.

“The far West Rand area from Westonaria to Carletonville has been experiencing frequent occurrences of sinkholes and subsidence due to dewatering of groundwater compartments with the West Rand district, particularly Merafong and the Khutsong areas being the worst affected,” said Ndovela.

She said approximately 25% of the province is underlain by dolomite.

“There is also an area in the south of Tshwane which has seen scores of sinkholes in recent years, while relatively few events have been reported in the City of Ekurhuleni and in the City of Johannesburg.

“It has also been noted that the rainfall and floods in the province are contributing to the formation of sinkholes and further causing existing sinkholes to expand in size,” she said.

Several parts of the country have been experiencing flooding as a result of the heavy downpours that have been experienced in the last couple of days.

Seven provinces out of the nine have since been declared disaster areas by the government.

ALSO READ: Government declares national state of disaster over widespread floods

According to Ndovela, new sinkholes have also been reported in areas such as Centurion, Tembisa and Orlando due to the persistent rainfall.

Sinkholes are also noted in other provinces such as Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West and Northern Cape.

These sinkholes are also affecting public infrastructure such as roads, water infrastructure, schools and clinics, said Ndovela.

“The management of the formation of sinkholes is a priority as government departments develop strategies that focus on risk reduction and rehabilitation of sinkholes and reduce the impacts and disruptions caused by sinkholes.

“According to the Council for Geoscience, 99% of sinkholes are due to human induced factors, which means it can be managed,” Ndovela said.

Municipalities have the primary responsibility to monitor sinkhole events in the areas, provide immediate response and implement risk reduction measures, Ndovela said.

“Noting the nature of sinkholes and the impact caused by sinkholes, the involvement of sector departments is crucial in the management of sinkholes,” Ndovela added.

Numerous attempts to get comment from the Merafong local municipality this week were unsuccessful.

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Gauteng Khutsong rain sinkhole