Theft of sewer manhole covers is the reason Gaborone stinks

10 Jun 2019

Why is it that beginning last year, most of Gaborone smells like the “fresh-produce” section of supermarkets that are part of a certain notorious retail chain? The answer is that, alongside copper cables, sewer manhole covers are another hot commodity that is burning up the black market.

When Sunday Standard first asked the Water Utilities Corporation about persistent foul smell that hangs heavy in certain parts of town, it was operating on the assumption that the Corporation was not exercising proper stewardship over infrastructure into which effluent from a city of almost 300 000 people is discharged on a daily basis. However, as the WUC’s Corporate Communications Manager, Beauty Mokoba explains, infrastructure vandalism and theft of manholes are the main reasons persistent foul smell cannot be contained. The other reason is “failure by some parties to honour trade effluent agreements.”

With such crimes and negligence having happened, there is nothing to contain the noxious gases from sewer lines and they easily escape into and pollute the atmosphere. When vandalism and theft occur, the responsibility of fixing the problem falls to two parties: WUC itself and private landowners in the case of shopping malls. Of late, there is a very strong smell around Kgale Mall that often starts around mid-morning - it is not too hard to imagine what that does to the business of an upmarket restaurant whose patrons prefer to sit in an outdoor seating area. It turns out that it is not WUC’s responsibility to ensure that the air in Kgale is not polluted.

“Kgale Mall and the rest of Roman Catholic Land, including Commerce Park and Game City, are a private controlled area and not maintained by WUC. The responsible facilities managers were engaged and advised to fix the sewage problems,” says Mokoba adding that “most malls in the city have their own facility managers who are responsible for sewer reticulation.”

In the case of Gaborone West, two other areas have or have had this problem, which is most pronounced in the evenings: a vast area near the northern end of the new CBD (which includes two hotels and a restaurant) as well as Molapo Crossing shopping mall. In attributing this particular problem to vandalism of pipes and theft of manholes covers, Mokoba also reveals that “procurement of materials is underway to normalise the system.” In the case of Molapo Crossing, she says that WUC has a sewer line from Block 5 passing along Grand Palm to the mall and that the problem was attended last year through a mini-project.

“The smells went away as all open manholes were closed and a trade effluent agreement entered with relevant parties to pre-treat waste before it gets pumped into the sewer line,” she adds.

In response to the question of what WUC overall plan is for resolving this problem and when it is implementing it, Mokoba’s response was that “the Corporation has an operational plan through which it addresses sewerage issues as and when they occur.” The foul smell puts WUC in a peculiar position because it is part of the national dam tourism project. That raises the question: how can the Corporation be part of a project to attract tourists when it doesn’t keep the air clean enough for that purpose? In response, Mokoba says that “WUC is in the process of addressing smells by various projects it is undertaking at Glen Valley that includes the ongoing Gaborone wastewater feasibility study.”