Monday, September 12, 2016


Dear Patricia de Lille, Mayor of Cape Town,

            As the head of what your Democratic Alliance party claims to be the most efficient municipality in the country can you please, please stop your Council wasting more money on a rubbish dump that was closed 30 years ago?
            The cost so far this year could exceeded R1-million or even reach R1 500 000 before the year is over.
            Don’t blame me if I haven’t got my figures spot on because ever since I began my expose`of this scandal Councillor Johan van der Merwe, your Mayoral Committee member in charge of Environmental Planning has not been very forthcoming about the cost and exactly what is being done to maintain this site at Witsands next to a popular surfing beach not far from Cape Point.
            I have had to drag information out of him bit by bit. At one stage he told me my figures were not correct but he didn’t give me the right ones.
            Now my questions and the posts I have written about what is going on at this 19 ha sand dune covered area have clearly got too hot and embarrassing for your Council.
            How else can you explain why Van der Merwe has now clammed up and refuses to answer any more of my questions? I’m not surprised that he doesn’t want  more publicity because this is a shocking waste of ratepayer’s money made worse because it is taking place not far from the townships of Masiphumelele and Ocean View where the residents so badly need funds to upgrade facilities.
            In March this year he told me that managing this site to ensure that what is left of the rubbish under the sand - plastic, bottles and other biodegradable material – doesn’t get washed into the sea by streams that develop in the winter rainfall season, has cost R500 000 a year for the last 10.
            He added that “more than 60%” of the amount spent had gone to “the employment of unskilled labour.” This would have meant that the poor in the area would have benefited by a massive R3-million over the period, a figure that I would dispute as ‘Unbelievable.’ But I am happy to apologise if your Council can give me some kind of reasonable proof that this actually happened.
            I have been going to Witsands regularly over the last few years and this year your Council has gone berserk with its spending there as if money is no object.
            Since February hired heavy earth moving equipment consisting of a huge tracked bulldozer; an excavator and two dumper trucks was brought in on two occasions. They spent several weeks on the site moving the sand around. And if the job had been done properly the first time this equipment would not have been needed again just a couple of months later.
            These machines don’t come cheap and at a rough guess R700 000 has already been spent hiring them. To this must be added another R400 000 for the maze of nets that have been put up in an effort to keep the sand in place in a very wind swept area.
            The disregard for the way our money is being thrown away was graphically illustrated when a lone excavator recently arrived on a Monday to deepen the stream that had started running into the sea on the one edge of the site.
            It stood idle until Thursday, was used on that and the following day, and remained parked at least until noon on the following Monday. When I questioned this Van der Merwe told me that the City’s hire rate at Witsands for an excavator was R538 an hour and it didn’t cost anything for the first three days of the week as it was delivered earlier than required.
            On the site I got a different more probably version and that was that the excavator could not be used initially because the operator was waiting for the nets that went across the stream and near it to be lifted so that it could get in.
            I would have expected your experts to have been able to predict where the stream would run so the nets did not end up straddling it and then have to be removed.
            The deepening of the stream was definitely an absolute waste of money. Where the work began it was about six meters wide and the water was a mere two or three centimeters in the deepest parts.

            The sand was dug out in the middle of the stream to a depth of a meter and piled on the side for about a kilometre. It evidently hadn’t occurred to the Council’s experts that if you dig holes in waterlogged sand they close up almost immediately and in this case, before the excavator left the site, the stream had reverted back to its original depth. 
After the stream was dug it went back to this which was
no deeper than what it was before the excavator moved in
            So that was at least another R21 000 thrown away on the dump.
            Among my very first questions to Van der Merwe I asked what effort had been made to cover the land fill site with vegetation as this was internationally accepted as the best and most cost effective way of stabilising coastal sand dunes.

            He replied that in this case it was “almost impossible to do” and in any event to “modify this natural system” could not be done “without several authorisations.”
            He didn’t explain this and on several occasions since then he repeated that an “Environmental Authorisation” would be needed to do this.
            The contract to erect the netting was given to Vula Environment Restoration a firm of dune restoration specialists at a price of R200 000. It claims to have stabilised dunes with indigenous grasses and to be able to produce vast quantities of indigenous plant seeds.   
            “The reason why the entire 19 ha has not been instantaneously vegetated is that there has not been a detailed study of the viability of this and there in not an Environment Authorisation in terms of the viability of the relevant legislation to implement this,” Deon van Eeden the founder of Vula told me. 
            So for more than 10 years your Council has been happily spending millions on this site without bothering to do the “detailed study” he talking about or getting the necessary authorisation that would allow the site to be covered in vegetation in much the same way as the adjourning dunes, thus solving the problem forever at minimum cost.
            It now transpires that Van Eeden’s firm is doing what I advocated six months ago even though that mysterious authorisation has not been obtained.
            “Natural recolonisation by local vegetation has taken place in certain areas where seed banks exist,” he told me last month. “This has been possible with the reduction in sand movement created by the netting. Some limited planting of cuttings taken from the area is taking place adjacent to existing vegetated areas where sand has inundated areas that previously had vegetation.”
            However when asked him if he had solved the Environment Authorisation problem he again repeated what had now become a council mantra: “Any proactive planting of the historical mobile dune field will require an Environmental Authorisation.”
            In March Vula initially put up 5 km of netting on a 4ha ridge that was made by the earth movers parallel to the sea. The nets were supposed to force the wind to drop the sand on top of the landfill between the rows.
            The first two winter storms flattened or buried much of the netting and a large area of rubbish was exposed. That was when the earth movers had to return in May to dump tons more sand on the exposed areas.

Some of the first nets that were erected
Nets put up more recently near the stream
              Since then nets have been erected over another huge area further inland. But like the first lot the wind flattened or buried a lot of them within weeks of them being put up. Once this happens according to Van der Merwe they are supposed to be restored to their original positions, but from what I have seen this has only been done in a very small section.
            I believe that if the Council stopped disturbing the dunes so often with earth moving equipment there would be far less chance of existing vegetated sections being covered with sand and the plants would be more likely to spread across the entire site.
Left to nature this is how vegetation is growing on the
dunes on the edge of the Council's sand pit next to the beach
What the dunes in the Council's sand pit next to the beach
look like after being shifted around and netted.
             It’s odd that Van Eeden’s company, the experts, should start planting now just when the Cape’s rainy season is coming to an end.
After the Council gave Van Eeden permission to answer my questions and he told me that his R200 000 vat inclusive contract lasted until March 2017 he never made it clear that this was purely to put up the nets and maintain them.
It was only by chance that Van der Merwe disclosed recently that the nets themselves plus the poles to hold them up were bought from two other different suppliers in December 2015 and June 2016 at cost of R101 000 and R111 400 excluding vat.
The depressing thing is that spending on nets and putting them up is not yet over because Van der Merwe says that the City will soon be advertising for quotes for “the remaining netting and maintenance work required on the site.” He added that the cost of this would only be known once the job had been awarded.
“It is the intention to net the entire dune field before next summer and the ongoing management will include strategically lifting some nets while leaving others to encourage sand to accumulate in areas where it is needed.”
            And who knows, if they don’t do the job properly we might see the earth movers back.
Questions that Van der Merwe would not answer:
·       Why is it that after spending R500 000 annually on the site for the last 10 years the Council has not yet got Environmental Authorisation to enable vegetation to be planted on the entire 19 ha?
·       Why is planting taking place when there is no Environmental Authorisation?
·       From whom and how it the necessary Environmental Authorisation obtained if the Council wants to go ahead with vegetating the whole of the site?
·       Was Vula’s price to put up nets on the 19 ha or only the 4ha that was done in the first phase?
·       If it was only for the 4ha section how much will it cost to do the rest of the area?


P.S. My suggestion, which was clearly regarded as sacrilege, was to plant fast growing Port Jackson willow over the dump. As you no doubt know this was originally brought from Australia to cover coastal dunes, similar to the ones at Witsands, in other parts of Cape Town.
It spread so quickly it got the alien tag so your Council would rather carry on squandering millions than plant this. Meanwhile a whole mountainside is covered with it 
a few kilometers from Witsands and your Council is doing nothing to get rid of that. It is now flowering, so it won’t be long before millions more Port Jackson seeds will be sprouting all over the place.

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