To pump raw sewage into a river and any dam is illegal, not because of bylaws only but also by national legislation. It is not only municipality officials that are responsible, but also ministers. They are not doing their own jobs. Why are there tax to remove sewage – not to dump into drinking water.
Dis ‘n bekende feit, foto’s en selfs eie inwoners, wat klagtes ingedien het, is bewyse dat die Vaaldam besoedel word, nie net met rou riool nie, maar ook met ander chemiese afvalstowwe wat ingepomp word. “Verantwoordelike” munisipale amptenare (ingenieurs, loodgieters, gesondheidsinspekteurs) is of onbevoeg of kan nie die werk doen nie, nog minder die raadslede, hoofuitvoerende beamptes, Burgemeesters en verder op in die hiërargie soos provinsiale ministers, departement en Nasionale ministers, wat nie omsien na hierdie groot krisis op hande nie. Word hierdie met opset gedoen dat mense kan siek word? Dit kom voor of die politici bietjie tennis speel – die blaam word van een na die ander oorgedra.
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Hier is ‘n hele paar berigte wat getuig van die krisis wat al jare sloer en aangaan sonder dat munisipaliteite hul werk doen. Belastingbetalers betaal, maar waarvoor word rou riool so ingepomp om mense en diere siek te maak – sodat daar ekstra onkostes is vir mediese sorg by dokters en hospitale? Besoedelde water word ook deur boere gebruik om voedsel te produseer wat weer die voedsel kontamineer. Dit veroorsaak ‘n lang groot ketting.
This pollution of water, the raw sewage in the water, is not the first time – it is an ongoing situation since 1994. The authorities are making us sick.
Letuka has written to MEC Olly Mlamleli, requesting her to immediately intervene and put a stop the project.
“Willfully pumping raw sewerage into a fresh water source is a criminal act prosecutable under the National Water Act. The Vaal Dam is a critical fresh water source for South Africa’s economic heartland and is of vital importance to many communities along the dam’s shoreline in the Free State.
“Access to water is a human right. The municipality’s intention to pump raw sewerage into the Vaal Dam threatens water security, the environment and most importantly the health and well-being of every single person dependent on the dam’s water.”
Several calls to the Metsimaholo Local Municipality in Sasolburg went unanswered.
Former water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane has been harshly criticised for “killing” an “excellent” incentive programme for wastewater treatment during her tenure by delaying inspections and stopping reports from being made public. This, researchers say, stymied progress made in overseeing the country’s sewage treatment plants, particularly those around the Vaal River, into which an estimated 150 megalitres of raw sewage spill each day.
Dr Victor Munnik, an independent researcher and research associate at the Rhodes Institute for Water Research, made this claim on Thursday during his presentation at the SA Human Rights inquiry on whether the state of the Vaal River violates or threatens human rights.
In late 2008, the department introduced a Green Drop certification programme for wastewater treatment works to ensure they improved operations and did not negatively affect the water bodies into which they discharged treated effluent. The system aimed to award water service authorities with Blue or Green Drop status if they complied with drinking water and wastewater legislation, respectively, as well as other best practices.
But the programme was beset by delays from 2014 after Mokonyane was appointed. “It was an excellent programme. It identified the core issues. Most technical and management issues at the wastewater works had a step-by-step improvement programme. It also had a public participation component, where the publication of results was key,” Munnik told the inquiry.
“However, the former minister killed the programme through delays in inspections and by stopping reports from going public. Reports were given directly to municipalities, but there was no obligation to release them, so it defeated the objective of public pressure on municipalities.”
There are a number of human rights abuses caused by the water quality of the river – the fisher folk who fish for themselves and other for small-scale sales are in danger from eating that contaminated fish.
One of the reasons Munnik praised the now defunct programme was that it developed 11 criteria that, if followed, would radically improve the performance of sewage plants.
“So the wastewater works would display the results they achieved publicly [after inspection], which would assure citizens that they were well run. There were certain percentage points to show you had the right number of staff, had a monitoring programme, reported failures, had a stormwater plan, abided by bylaws and, importantly, informed the public of your results,” he said.
Munnik and a team of civil society representatives launched a project to support local municipalities around the Vaal in preparation for Green Drop inspections.
“We started having capacity-building workshops and worked with staff at wastewater works, including Sebokeng and Rietspruit. We found the staff to be enthusiastic participants. They came to meetings, shared information and took us on walks through the wastewater works,” he said.
“However, when we worked up the chain with local government, we found that the support programmes for wastewater works were not what they should be.”
Municipalities did not support treatment plants as they didn’t provide adequate staff and budgets, and they didn’t help with procurement.
“There was no secretarial support, so paperwork was in chaos. Even small issues like having chlorine available was a problem,” he said.
After this, Munnik said, staff morale dropped and “people lost interest”. He argued that public awareness and participation was important to keep officials accountable.
“There are a number of human rights abuses caused by the water quality of the river. The fisher folk who fish for themselves and for small-scale sales are in danger from eating the fish,” he said.
“The traditional healers who see the river as a sacred place for their rituals and who perform submersions are also in danger, as are the small farmers who use the water from the river.”