12 sinkholes in six months cost Montagu Gardens businesses millions

The first sinkhole in August 2023 in Montagu Drive, Montagu Gardens. Photographer: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

The first sinkhole in August 2023 in Montagu Drive, Montagu Gardens. Photographer: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 4, 2024


Cape Town - Irate business owners, who have lost 25% of their turnover and millions of rand due to 12 sinkholes in six months in Montague Gardens, have called on the City to speed up repairs to the main road or declare the area a disaster.

The sinkholes which are 200m in length and had underground piping surface from them, barricaded customers from entering their businesses.

Not only have the owners suffered losse but they have been left frustrated with high traffic congestion and an increase in accidents due to a detour.

Experts have warned that repairs and assessments to sinkholes were important to avoid further damage and collapse.

The City has indicated the main cause of the sporadic sinkholes is due to ageing infrastructure and this week repairs would begin at the vacant site.

In a timeline documented, the first sinkhole collapse occurred on August 21, 2023, another on September 14 last year with a third forming a week later and two more shortly thereafter, and many more following up until January.

In a desperate bid to have their voices heard, the businesses have reached out to the media, claiming City officials have remained mum on why a contractor had not been appointed sooner – or what had happened to one which had been appointed earlier this year after a rejection was submitted.

The owners also stated they had been in engagements with officials and mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis.

Tony Pronk, who has been running his business, Montague Gardens Hardware for 22 years, said they have been left frustrated with a single lane detour and have documented every sinkhole, repair and communication with officials.

“Why did the City officials refuse to listen to calls from business owners to keep the two directional flow on Montague Drive and opt for a detour situation,” said Pronk.

“It caused traffic chaos, accidents and huge loss of turnover for many businesses on Montague Drive. “Why was a contractor not already appointed by mid-January to reinstate the road when the pipeline was repaired?

“It is now three months since the site is standing vacated and the mayor promised that it would start in April.

“This means that the repairs in total (pipeline and road surface) will be about nine months and for all this time we had the ‘detour’ in place causing huge financial loss for businesses on Montague Drive as many people now avoid using Montague Drive.”

The first sinkhole in August 2023 in Montagu Drive, Montagu Gardens. Photographer: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Pronk detailed the economic loss to his business: “The impact is the extra time my drivers spend having to do the detour multiple times a day. I have lost approximately 20 to 25% in turnover.”

Mayco member for water and sanitation Zahid Badroodien admitted several sinkholes were experienced during a six-month period but that structural engineering repairs began this week to complete Montague Drive.

“A total of 12 sinkholes occurred randomly between August 21 last year to January 25 this year. All 12 sinkholes have since been repaired.

“The next phase in the project is the road reinstatement and surfacing which will commence on May 2.”

Karen Sam Davis, chairperson: marketing and social development director for the Central Improvement District that oversees the Montague Gardens/Marconi industrial area called for an immediate repair to the road or to declare it a disaster, claiming the City had not been transparent.

“The sinkholes have affected many businesses in Montague Gardens but the frustration has come around the repairs to Montague Drive which is the main road in Montague Gardens.

“The City made promises that the roadworks would be completed by the end April.

The first sinkhole in August 2023 in Montague Drive, Montague Gardens. Picture supplied

“In my capacity, I emailed the sub-council manager and ward councillor to try get a definitive answer to the end date and received no response.

“I have subsequently had a discussion with the ward councillor who has now also finally been advised of the situation.

“It appears the contractor who was initially contracted, withdrew from the contract because the Roads Department changed the specifications as to the road surface, etc.

“The City then went about trying to source another contractor who was not happy with the budget allocated and this led to delays.

“My concern is that this was never communicated and people were left to make all kinds of assumptions.

“After Covid many businesses were just picking up and then this happened.

“I have also asked why disaster risk management was not implemented. Surely this was a disaster?”

Badroodien said old infrastructure is to blame for the sinkholes and admits they are aware of the grievances logged by businesses owners but that communication was kept open between the parties.

“Stakeholder engagement sessions with affected businesses were arranged on October 11, 2023 and again on February 20 to inform and share information on the progress of the project.”

When asked what budget had been allocated to the road repair, Badroodien added the traffic management plan was approved by Traffic Services to remain in place until the road reinstatement was completed but did not give an official number.

Another business owner who is part of a popular franchise, who asked not to be identified, said they too had lost 25% of their turnover.

“In all of my years being here which is over 20 years, we have never seen something like this and experienced this kind of loss. The damage is R1 million plus so far.”

Dr Talia da Silva Burke, senior Lecturer in Geotechnical Engineering at Stellenbosch University referred to a recent media article which stated that at least 38 people have died in South Africa in the past 50 years due to sinkhole formation and that the Council of Geoscience believed the cost of damages caused by sinkholes was in the range of R1bn.

She said sinkholes occur when an underground void is formed in the soil that then collapses as the void gets bigger and cannot support itself any more.

“They can occur naturally in areas where the rock is soluble (dissolvable), and they can also be man-made when leaking pipelines and sewers wash away soil creating a hole,” she added.

“They often occur suddenly as it is difficult to monitor when a void is occurring and at risk of collapse.”

Da Silva said that the sudden collapse could be dangerous and an inconvenience to road users.

“They cause damage to infrastructure (roads, buildings and pipelines) that fall into the collapsed void and service provision is therefore interrupted. Vehicles and houses can also fall into the void, and there is the danger of loss of life in extreme cases.

“Once a sinkhole occurs, engineers will need to assess the surrounding region to determine the size of the void and ensure there are no other voids in the area or risk of further collapse.

“Work will be required to fill the void (usually with grout) and re-establish the road and other infrastructure (pipes and cables) that may have been impacted.

“Depending on the size of the void, this can take several months.”