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Government ‘in contravention of the constitution’ over Hammanskraal water woes: Senzo Mchunu

Amanda Khoza Presidency reporter
Minister of water and sanitation Senzo Mchunu said people living in Hammanskraal have for too long been subjected to polluted water. File photo.
Minister of water and sanitation Senzo Mchunu said people living in Hammanskraal have for too long been subjected to polluted water. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Water and sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu on Tuesday told parliament a team of special advisers is crafting a response to a damning SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) report into the water pollution situation in the City of Tshwane.

“What we are doing until end of the month is that special advisers are crafting our reaction to the SAHRC and crafting an opinion on any other relevant report from our office and our interactions,” said Mchunu.

He made the comments during a portfolio committee meeting on water and sanitation sitting at the National Assembly on the department and Rand Water’s interventions into the Vaal river system challenges.

He said: “This will be presented before the end of the month in our meeting with the department, wherein we will take our final decision. We don’t intend to fight the recommendations of the SAHRC nor challenge them. We intend adopting a clear position taken from, among other things, that report, and then we go forward.”

TimesLIVE reported in September that the commission conducted a fact-finding visit to the Temba water purification plant and Rooiwal waste water treatment works. This is after it was reported that the quality of water produced in the plant had severely deteriorated, leaving the city with no choice but to temporarily shut it down.

The commission reportedly declared the water in Hammanskraal unsafe for human consumption in 2019 and found that the situation hadn’t changed much since.

Mchunu told MPs: “It has come to the point where the department of water and sanitation needs to conclude that, in terms of our obligations to the constitution of Republic of SA, we are defaulting. It’s one thing to default when circumstances force you to, or are insurmountable, maybe because you are incapable, either human resource wise or because of the budget.

“In the case of Tshwane and the people of Hammanskraal, it’s not the whole of Hammanskraal that is affected. It is the Temba area, which is supplied by the Apies River system up to the water treatment plant. The dam is fed by a river which is infested by pollution.”

He said there are not problems in others part of Hammanskraal supplied by Rand Water and Magalies Water Board.

In Hammanskraal, Mchunu said the problem had been going on for a long time.

“We need to intervene because, not only are we in contravention of the constitution, we are also in contravention of our own mantra. We are certainly defaulting. This is to the disappointment of the people of Hammanskraal, with whom we have directly interacted on two occasions.

“What we are putting to the portfolio committee at this stage is that the report of the SAHRC clearly indicates we need to intervene in that situation. In terms of the constitution and legislative framework, we agree we should intervene otherwise we will continue operating from under the bus as a result of the problems of the City of Tshwane.”

In his presentation to the committee, acting provincial head Simon Makhangula said the department has been receiving complaints about the quality of drinking water in Hammanskraal, and in 2018, the community reported the matter to the SAHRC.

He said on October 26, the commission released a report into sewerage and pollution in the City of Tshwane’s rivers and Rooiwal dam.

The commission recommended that the situation regarding failing waste water treatment works in SA be declared a disaster, and that cabinet consider taking a decision to intervene in the running of the City of Tshwane, particularly the water and sanitation function.

“This is a recommendation receiving attention internally by the department,” said Makhangula.

“Minister Mchunu has instructed the department to find an interim solution to provide drinking water to the affected people of Hammanskraal because completion of the Rooiwal first phase, which is meant to be completed by October 2022, is too far away.”

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