Addressing the issues of Imizamo Yethu and Dontse Yakhe: the Residents’ Association takes action

Extracts from Environmental Impact report on Dontse Yakhe by independent Environmentalist Consultant Andre van der Spuy

Impacts on residents of Dontse-Yakhe, Erf 1509, Imizamo Yethu and Hout Bay

The environmental degradation, poverty and potential for outbreaks of disease within Dontse-Yakhe and Erf 1509 are immediately evident when inspecting these areas, in which residents exist in conditions of squalor. The impacts on the residents themselves, resulting from the un-planned and ill-serviced settlements, are not only immediate but have far-reaching consequences in their affect on the quality of life of individuals, families and indeed local and wider communities. Whereas there exists minimal formal infrastructure to speak of within Dontse-Yakhe, the recognised informal settlement of Imizamo Yethu, to which Dontse-Yakhe is uncomfortably adjoined, has also become directly impacted by the activities associated with Dontse-Yakhe, in so doing incurring similar impacts of abject poverty and susceptibility to ill-health and disease caused by the unsanitary and densely-populated conditions. The settlements are riddled with open cess-pits of foul effluent which are considered to be serious health hazards to residents in these areas and also to the wider Hout Bay community, but so too are they directly affecting the quality of life and indeed very existence of these residents, by contributing to a constant area-character of degradation and squalor.

Impacts on the Hout Bay River ecosystem, and on Skoorsteenkop/ Table Mountain National Park

The highly-elevated bacterial counts reported by the ECG and by extension the excessive nutrient levels in the Hout Bay River will contribute substantially to the ecologically unbalanced river ecosystem, and this is clearly evident. The river is typical of a disturbed system having poor to non-existent biological connectivity with its flood plain and being dominated by opportunistic (often alien) vegetation species that thrive on the elevated nutrient levels at the expense of a wider variety of riparian and aquatic species. This imbalance will be replicated in the structure of the aquatic biota and an overall lower-than-natural biodiversity will become (and is clearly) evident. It is noted too that the regular dredging by the City of Cape Town of the river in order to clear the river bed of dense stands of reeds and associated vegetation (most of which is alien invasive) is also a contributing factor to the river’s generally poor biological state.

While any pollution of the mountain is of concern, in this instance, the area above Dontse-Yakhe, comprising ‘Skoorsteenkop’, falls within the Table Mountain National Park- a declared World Heritage Site. Despite its status as such, the area has been progressively negatively affected by activities associated with the existence of Dontse-Yakhe, with the following impacts being evident:

  • As with many of the adjoining areas, the mountainside immediately above Dontse-Yakhe is polluted by faeces, litter and general discard;
  • Human activities have accounted for a number of ‘veld’ fires in recent years, exacerbated by the hindrance which Dontse-Yakhe incurs in at times preventing fire-fighters gaining access to the mountain;
  • The illegal mining of Table Mountain Sandstone, in which stone is being excavated and broken into transportable sizes, for use in stone-cladding in local and wider formal developments. The extensive use of the mountainside for such purpose, which is contended by amongst others the ECG to arise as a result of the inhabitants of Dontse-Yakhe accessing the mountain, also has associated impacts, such as littering, abluting, and enhanced fire risk, fire-wood collection and the trampling/ clearing of indigenous vegetation to afford access to stone outcrops, with associated impacts on the indigenous floral and faunal communities, soil and groundwater and slope stability.
  • Destruction and/ or dislocation of indigenous vegetation/ habitat for gathering of fire wood through trampling (‘desire-lines’) and cutting of brush.

The visual impact of the subject sites

While the assessment of visual impacts is considered to be a ‘value judgment’ and is by nature subjective, it is considered that the occupation of Dontse-Yakhe and Erf 1509 has severely impacted the greater environment of Hout Bay from, amongst others, a visual perspective. The prominent location of the settlements- in particular Dontse-Yakhe on account of its elevation- cannot be argued and the lack of formal infrastructure (e.g. housing, services, landscaping) results in what can be construed as visually undesirable areas.

Environmental Legislation which has been triggered by the existence of the settlements

Upon reference to the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA: Act No. 107 of 1998), as amended and specifically Government Notice No. R. 385 of April 2006 and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations, 2006, it is apparent that certain activities, listed in terms of GN. No. R 386, have been triggered as a result of the existence of the settlements, and the activities associated with these. Accordingly, it is contended that, in order for the settlements to exist legally and in a regulated manner which conforms to the law of South Africa, inter alia, environmental authorisations, granted in terms of NEMA would need to be obtained. Notwithstanding the requisite environmental authorisations, there exists other legislation (e.g. The Land Use Planning Ordinance, 15 of 1985 and the National Heritage Resources Act: NHRA: Act 25 of 1999, etc.) which would have to be met.

Finally, it is our suspicion that the present circumstances represent an unconstitutional situation. In Article 24 of the Constitution, environmental rights are put into the context of human health wherein it is stated “Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being;” Also, the rights of future generations in the context of sustainable development are recognised in the statement “and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources, while promoting justifiable economic and social development.” It is our view that these rights of all the inhabitants of Hout Bay are being violated.