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Save the Vaal Environment proposes jail time for Vaal River polluters

FILE IMAGE: Sewage can be seen flowing into the Rietspruit River that feeds into the Vaal River system, which supplies water to 50% of Gauteng households.
FILE IMAGE: Sewage can be seen flowing into the Rietspruit River that feeds into the Vaal River system, which supplies water to 50% of Gauteng households.

The Save the Vaal Environment (Save) has called for someone to be held accountable and even face jail time for the sewerage that has been running into the Vaal River for years. The call was made by Save during its presentation during an inquiry conducted by the SA Human Rights Commission into the sewerage which is running into the Vaal River.

 “Our recommendation is that the necessary authorities must take full responsibilities for the sewerage, get the necessary funding from Treasury to stop the pollution and the breakdown of the Vaal River system. The best way to resolve the ongoing sins is to hold people accountable … take them to court and put them in jail for what has happened to the people of Vaal and the people using the river for their lives,” said Malcolm Plant, chairperson of Save.

In the past 10 years, Save has obtained seven court orders to try and force Emfuleni local municipality to end the sewerage from getting into the Vaal River. However, these court orders have not been able to end the pollution of the river. Sewerage has been running into the river for years but it got worse this year as the municipality faced serious financial problems, unable to do maintenance and infrastructure upgrades.

Save told the commission that with less money available, pump stations which help move sewerage underground to the wastewater treatment plant were  clogged by the amount of sewerage. Sewerage boiled up and burst out of the manholes and its natural flow took it straight to the Vaal River. Residents along the path were faced with sewerage running into the properties, which posed serious environmental and health risks.

Plant said Save had taken the issue to the office of the premier in Gauteng and Cogta in the province and received assurance that issues of funding in Emfuleni would be addressed. In June this year, Gauteng premier David Makhura placed Emfuleni local municipality under administration as it faced serious financial problems as it received threats from Eskom and Rand Water to shutdown services to the people.

However, Save said this move did not improve the situation with regards to pollution in the Vaal River. “The situation has not changed since Cogta (Department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs) took over [certain aspects of the running of the municipality].  In actual fact, the situation is worse  than it was prio to [it] going under administration,” said Plant.

Save told the commission that the pollution has a serious negative impact on tourism businesses along the river, livestock and communities that depend on the river for their livelihood. Communities that are being affected by the pollution of the Vaal River are among others Vereeniging,  Sebokeng, Boipatong and Sharpeville. 

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