Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has ordered the City of Cape Town to apologise and pay more than R25 000 in damages to a man whose house was damaged by burst pipes.
Madonsela announced the findings of her investigation today and lambasted the council for being “defensive” when the complainant, Ivan Kumwenda, approached it to pay for damages to his property and furniture.
Kumwenda, from Kraaifontein in Cape Town, was at home on December 2 2010 when pipes in front of his house burst and the sewage spilled into his yard and house.
On the rainy night on which the pipes burst, the walls, the dining room and lounge carpets, the toilet floor tiles and kitchen furniture were damaged.
Kumwenda reported the damage to the City of Cape Town that same night and took a day off work to clean the house the next day.
The council fixed the burst water pipes the next day.
When he approached the council to foot the R25 871 bill for repairing and replacing the goods, it “repudiated” his claim and told him that the sewer blockage was caused by building rubble “in the vicinity” of the sewer pipelines.
The City of Cape Town wrote to Kumwenda and informed him that the council could not be held responsible for the damages because it was an unforeseen occurrence.
But the city’s version was different to that of council workers who came to fix the pipes and had told Kumwenda that the drain blockage was caused by missing sewage and water-drain lids, which had been stolen.
The council had also told Kumwenda that it could not compensate him because it was not legally liable for the damage and could only pay in instances where negligence was found on the part of the city or any of its employees.
Kumwenda lodged his complaint with Madonsela’s office in November 2011 after numerous run-ins with the council.
In her report, titled Meet Me in Court, Madonsela said that during her investigation the same pipes in front of Kumwenda’s house burst twice.
The City of Cape Town had told Madonsela’s office that the Public Protector was not in a position to investigate the damages claim and argued that Madonsela should not investigate it because Kumwenda had not exhausted legal remedies.
But Madonsela said if Kumwenda had approached the courts to intervene in the dispute she would not have been able to investigate the matter as the “decision of the court is final”.
The City of Cape Town had also refused to attend an in loco inspection by Madonsela’s office to Kumwenda’s house, despite being asked to do so.
The council had argued that Madonsela “erred in adjudicating on a private dispute and making a damages-type award at the end of the process”.
But she rejected the council’s assertions.
Madonsela said the council did not take reasonable steps to fix the problem caused by the burst water pipes as they burst again after Kumwenda’s initial complaint.
“It was, however, evident that the city provided no solution to the recurring problem and the inconvenience caused to Kumwenda,” said Madonsela.
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