Rats, robbers and foul smells: Life in Khayelitsha’s Island Informal Settlement


Filth surrounds a standpipe providing water in Island, Khayelitsha. Photograph courtesy of the Social Justice Coalition.

This article was produced by Mary-Jane Matsolo for GroundUp – a new Cape Town based community journalism project. Find this and other stories visitwww.groundup.org.za.

Residents of Island in Khayelitsha TR section have been terrorised by rats for more than a decade. Situated between a highway and a blocked drainage canal, the residents also have to deal with the stench that comes from the canal which is infested with mosquitoes.

Nomasinla Boki says her daughter Anathi first experienced a rat bite, on the mouth, when she was just six months old. She was bitten again when she was one year old.

Boki explained how residents have to keep buckets inside their houses to relieve themselves at night because the toilets are far away from their shacks and they are afraid of walking to them at night because of the risk of being raped. She explained how the rats bore holes in their buckets. “They eat our furniture, and when it is raining they run inside the house. When they walk it’s like someone is dragging something inside the house. They even jump on top of our beds when we’re asleep and we can’t even see them because we don’t have electricity,” she claimed.

After an outcry from the community, the municipality attempted to poison the rats, but the rats are still there. While the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) and its partners are seeking the assistance of businesses in the Central Business District to combat the rodent population, no mention of plans in Khayelitsha was reported.

The City of Cape Town explains that in the last decade, the number of informal settlements has increased significantly with accompanying waste management challenges and this has contributed to the significant increase in the number of rodents.

Rats are not the only problem for this community. Ntombifikile Patricia Dywili lost her 23 year old son when he went to go urinate outside along the drainage canal, had a seizure and fell into the canal. She said, “We also pick up thrown away babies with their eyes and mouths eaten by the rats. We are at the mercy of robbers and thugs that come inside our homes at night. We hear them roaming inside the house but we just lie there because we can’t even switch on a light to scare them away.”

Ward counsellor Luvuyo Hedes said that he had asked the government to meet with the community of Island and get them relocated. But he feels these requests have failed. He explained how there appear to be no plans to relocate residents. He claims that city officials continuously postpone meetings scheduled to take place with them and the community.

GroundUp sought comment from the Mayoral Committee Member for Health, Councillor Lungiswa James, on the Island rat problem. His Executive Support Officer, Sandile Bontsa responded, “We will make sure that refuse is collected regularly and educate the community on how to manage their waste better and not throw food anywhere because the rats will go to the food. Our environmental health practitioners are also going door-to-door and we are monitoring the effectiveness of the rat poison on a monthly basis.”


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