Municipality must be held accountable for child’s death

Elviro Langford 10 drowned in a hole that was dug by the metro and during the recent rains filled with water with no warning signs or tape posted to warn the community.
Elviro Langford 10 drowned in a hole that was dug by the metro and during the recent rains filled with water with no warning signs or tape posted to warn the community.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

For many people, the start of a new year signals new beginnings and an opportunity to realise dreams and aspirations that will ensure a prosperous life.

But for the Langford family of the Boesaks Ground informal settlement in Missionvale, the new year marked the beginning of a living nightmare that no family should ever have to endure.

Last Tuesday, just a day after the world celebrated the new year, 10-year-old Elviro Langford drowned in a large open hole in the ground while playing with his friends.

The little boy, who was supposed to start Grade 4 in just a few days, drowned in the waterlogged 6-8m open pit while playing with his friends.

The hole was left by municipal contractors after carrying out repairs to a sewer manhole nearby.

Incidents of this nature are not uncommon across the country.

Just five months ago, another 10-year-old boy, Tshepo Moloi, died after falling into a manhole in Soweto, in Johannesburg.

Like Elviro, Tshepo was playing near the open hazard when he fell in.

Shortly before that, six-year-old Khayalethu Magadla died after slipping into an open manhole, also in Soweto.

In all these deaths there’s a narrative that seeks to problematise children for playing in or near open pits.

Lee-Anne Booysen, a resident of Boesaks Ground where Elviro died, is quoted as saying that parents and other adults often reprimand the youngsters for playing in water-filled holes, but that the children do not listen.

This argument must be critically analysed because it could be used to suggest that the deaths of these children are the result of their refusal to listen to their parents, when in fact they are the result of the disregard with which municipalities treat residents of informal settlements and townships.

Elviro was a child, and like all children, he just wanted to play.

After being trapped indoors by the heavy rains that battered Nelson Mandela Bay over the New Year period, children wanted to be out playing.

But in an informal settlement where there is a high population density and barely any recreational facilities, children don’t have adequate spaces to play.

They are forced to find open fields away from the closely built shacks to play with their soccer balls and makeshift toys.

Elviro and his friends, like any children their age, had every right to want to play.

To children whose brains are not developed enough to understand the danger of playing in or near open pits, a waterlogged manhole looks like a swimming pool.

Adults, men and women employed by the municipality, know a manhole is no swimming pool and had the responsibility to ensure that the manhole was covered.

But they did not cover the manhole, even when the community raised concerns about it.

This was also the case in the deaths of Tshepo and Khayalethu. Community members had been reporting open manholes to authorities, to no avail.

It took the deaths of children for the reports to finally be taken seriously.

The Langford family must be encouraged to take the NMB municipality to court and a law firm should take up the case, preferably pro-bono, or with the condition that it will only claim money upon successful litigation of the case.

If the municipality is not held legally accountable for this travesty, then it will get away with abdicating its responsibility towards the poorest of the poor in NMB.

Municipalities get away with service delivery failures in informal settlements and townships in particular not only because of disregard for the poor, but also because the poor cannot afford to take legal action.

I hope this case does not end with the burial of Elviro, because if it does, more children will be dying in open manholes.



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