Pollution of rivers widespread, SAHRC told

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.
Image: SANDILE NDLOVU

The department of water and sanitation has warned that the pollution of rivers should not be seen as something that is facing small municipalities only but also the metros in Gauteng.

 The department's regional head, Sibusiso Mthembu, told Sowetan on Wednesday that  all the three metros – Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni - are also guilty of polluting natural water in the province.

Mthembu said most of the municipalities in the province struggle with planning and maintenance of water infrastructure. This has a direct impact on the ability of the municipalities to deal with water pollution in the province.

“We have metros that are struggling. We have Hartbeespoort Dam which is largely polluted by the three metros. You can tell that the problem is not only limited to the smaller municipalities but also you have similar problems [in other municipalities] but maybe not [as] widely  reported as in Emfuleni … we are dealing with these hotspots across the province. In Hammanskraal about two weeks ago, the community was up in arms saying they can’t drink the water due to the condition of the water – smelly, foamy and has worms. So it is not just Emfuleni but it is a wider problem.

“The question we are now debating is, isn’t [it] time that we declare water and sanitation infrastructure as a national key point which would then mobilise resources both in manpower and financially. We are dealing with water which is life … sanitation which is dignity. We cannot perpetually have these problems were both small and large municipalities have the same problem to keep up with infrastructure … we certainly don’t want to collapse local government, however, we can’t keep up with the pollution and some service not being provided,” Mthembu said.

Mthembu was speaking at the inquiry being conducted by the SA Human Rights Commission into the sewerage that is running into the Vaal River. The pollution of the Vaal River is due to Emfuleni local municipality’s poor infrastructure which fails to move sewerage properly to the waste water treatment plants. Sewerage has been running on the streets in the municipality as pump stations are failing to cope, with manholes on the streets bursting with sewer.

Of the 44 pump stations in Emfuleni, only 11 are working. This leaves sewerage spilling into the streets and running down to the Vaal River.

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