Digging dilemmas

The front boundary wall of a Dennegeur Avenue house, was toppled during excavation for the installation of a fibre optic network.

The front boundary wall of a Strandfontein house was toppled during excavation for the installation of a fibre optic network.

Resident Ismail Pringle said he did not want to say much except that they were waiting for Mitchells Fibre’s insurance company to confirm they would replace the wall.

This is but one of hundreds of complaints from Mitchell’s Plain and Strandfontein residents fed up with what they describe as disrespect and poor workmanship from service provider, Mitchells Fibre.

They have complained to Mitchell’s Plain United Residents’ Association (MURA); Strandfontein Ratepayers’ Association (SRA) and the City of Cape Town.

In recent weeks, water and electricity cuts have been common place as diggers have nicked underground water pipes and electricity cables. Pavements have been left in disarray and driveways have been blocked.

In July, Mitchell’s Plain Integrated Development Forum (MPIDF) also complained about the number of local labour employed and whether consultation had been correctly handled to include local businesses, artisans and expertise to do the work themselves.

At the time, Eddie Andrews, councillor for Ward 78, condemned the forum for halting the installation of fibre optics in Rocklands and Westridge (“Councillors condemn acts to stop fibre projects” Plainsman, July 31).

Since then both Mr Andrews and Elton Jansen, councillor for Ward 43 and chairman of Sub-council 23, have been fielding complaints and directing them to the fibre optics company on their Facebook pages and on the Plainsman letters page.

There have also been safety and health risks with the digging of trenches as well as driveways being blocked and hazards not being clearly demarcated.

Mitchells Fibre, an open access fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network, is the contractor rolling out fibre optics in the area.

The project is initially focused on 1 000 homes within a pilot phase area to evaluate interest in, and uptake of fibre services within the community and will then be rolled out to the greater Mitchell’s Plain area.

They have partnered with several internet service providers (ISPs) and residents can then choose their ISP and package.

Mura chairman Norman Jantjes said they were “very disgusted” with the manner in which residents were being treated by Vumatel and its various sub-contractors.

“It started with the lack of or limited consultation.”

He said it was unfortunate that some of the local councillors had instead of engaging the residents and addressing their concerns, supported the service providers.

“Mura is not against the making of fibre and internet accessible to the community but it needs to be done in consultation with the community. We need jobs for our local businesses as well as for our unemployed,” he said.

Mr Jantjes also thanked the MPIDF “for fighting for our local businesses and unemployed youth”.

He said it was through their efforts that the contractor had been forced to employ some residents, which was not enough.

“Regarding the poor workmanship there is absolutely no excuse as this doesn’t happen in the more affluent areas,” he said.

Mr Jantjes urged the residents to approach their ward councillors directly to address their concerns.

He said Mura would again make contact with Vumatel in support of the community.

SRA chairman Mario Oostendurp said communication, which was key to a project of this magnitude, was sorely lacking.

“Most frustrating, is the manner in which the concerns of residents are being treated and disregarded, as lately the responses from the company has become arrogant.

“Dozens of concerns are being raised daily, however, we have been told that only 57 complaints have been reported,” he said.

Mr Oostendurp said they had questioned the integrity of the moling and scanning equipment, as a lot of the damage had been caused as a result of incorrect depth indicated on the scanner, prior to trenching and drilling.

“Many of the concerns are related to the poor workmanship regarding the downtime when services are damaged, reinstatement of pavements and safety issues, as we have had to remind the Vumatel representative that this is an issue, which he indicated is a priority, yet excavations continue to be left open, without any safety precautions taken,” he said.

Mr Oostendurp said while they appreciated local employment, this was not something that should be forced upon contractors.

“The poor workmanship in many instances could be attributed to the unskilled labour force, with little or no skills, in contrast to what the Vumatel website indicates,” he said. “In this regard, we have requested the ward councillor to have the City of Cape Town’s Health and Safety officers inspect all surfaces where trenching took place.

He said the residents were all potential paying customers, who expected the similar quality of workmanship.

“Just because the level of economic status is a bit less than other areas, this does not mean a lesser degree of workmanship and service. We have insisted that all damages are reported to the ratepayers’ association, as to be able to monitor the repairs and quality of reinstatement,” he said.

Ewald van der Westhuizen, regional director for Vumatel/Mitchells Fibre, said Mitchells Fibre was an initiative by Vumatel which started earlier this year.

It is their vision to connect communities with fast and affordable internet.

Mitchells Fibre is the first of its kind in South Africa providing 20Mpbs unshaped or uncapped fibre internet to homes, with free installation and no contracts attached.

He said they had applied for and were issued wayleaves from the City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority (TDA), Electrical, Water and Sanitation.

Mr Van der Westhuizen said they had two local companies conduct door-to-door engagements, informing residents about Mitchells Fibre as well as the civil construction process that follows.

“We are also in touch with the ward councillors who have been helping us with town hall meetings and updates from their side. We also have a social media page “Mitchells Fibre” where regular updates are done, residents can engage with us here and also log any civil complaints. Contractors who work in the area also drop off a civil construction notice to residents before work commences,” he said.

He said they had received complaints, which they were keeping track of, and ensured to resolve and give feedback to residents throughout the entire process.

“At the moment we have received 57 issues logged of the 21 000 homes we’ve passed civilly,” he said.

Mr Van der Westhuizen said contractors, health and safety teams had all been in touch with the resident.

“An insurance process has been set in motion to restore the collapsed wall,” he said.

He said unfortunately issues on a large scale civil project were impossible to avoid.

“We do our utmost best to mitigate these, constantly review to continuously improve and ensure that we learn from mistakes made. We understand that there may be some pains during the rollout but believe that it is all worth the benefits of installing fibre into the community in the end,” he said.

Vumatel is a privately-owned company and not part of the City, who have installed and passed over 160 000 homes in Cape Town.

Mr Van der Westhuizen said to ensure they were able to offer a well-priced product to the residents of Mitchell’s Plain, they had to rethink their deployment methods and decided to dig instead of going overhead.

To date they have more than 330 local Mitchell’s Plain residents employed on their project.

Mayoral committee member for transport, Felicity Purchase said Vumatel had appointed consultants who had applied for wayleaves in accordance with the City’s policy and procedures.

“Wayleaves are issued from the various departments and if feasible and the contractor wishes to proceed, a work permit is issued, indicating the City’s standards and specifications,” she said.

She said a representative from the City’s Roads Department was then tasked with monitoring the project as far as the scope of work and standards were concerned.

Ms Purchase said complaints were received via their formal reporting lines, telephone calls, SAP (computerised) calls logged, and their own visual inspections.

“All the issues have been discussed at formal meetings with the contractor, consultant and client,” she said.

Mitchell’s Plain residents can contact the City’s call centre, log a formal complaint, which they will address with the client or consultant to improve their standard of work.

Ms Purchase said before the Mitchell’s Plain project started, a test site had been installed to ensure feasibility, scope of work, method of work and that City standards and specifications were met. Based on this, approval was granted for installation.

Phindile Maxiti, mayoral committee member for energy and climate change, said the City had a guarantee in place with the contractors whereby the money that was required to repair the City’s electricity infrastructure, where there had been damage, was recovered from this guarantee.