We're taking Tshwane to court for failure to use the grant we gave them – Mchunu

Call for national government to fix Hammanskraal water crisis 'ignored'

Jeanette Chabalala Senior Reporter

One of the key recommendations calling for the national government to take over the running of the city of Tshwane’s water and sanitation due to poor management is yet to be implemented.

Two years ago, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) released a damning report revealing that the pollution of water resources in Hammanskraal was as a result of failure by the city to maintain wastewater treatment works in the area. It found the city had failed to fulfil its constitutional objectives.

The commission said the metro had failed to manage the situation over a prolonged period that had resulted in a regression in the quality of water provided to residents.

At the time, the commission said the lack of clean water in Hammanskraal was a violation of human rights.

As result it recommended that the cabinet should “seriously consider taking a decision for national government to intervene in the running of the city of Tshwane metropolitan municipality".

It also found that the failure to repair and replace the municipality’s sewage systems was a failure of many people over many years to properly run the municipality.

The commission recommended that municipal managers who were in place during the deterioration of the wastewater treatment works in the city of Tshwane and who “allowed” pollution to continue should be held accountable.

Yesterday, water and sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu said the city had rejected the recommendation by the commission that the national government should take over the water and sanitation function.

“The department engaged with National Treasury for funding for the intervention recommended by the SAHRC, but National Treasury indicated that the city had already been provided with funding for the rehabilitation and upgrading of the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works, through its urban settlements development grant (USDG) allocations,” Mchunu said.

"Consequently, the department is pursuing legal action against the city for a court order to force the city to use its USDG allocations to rehabilitate and upgrade the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works."

Mchunu expressed “great concern”, adding that the Hammanskraal community under the city of Tshwane has been experiencing unreliable and poor-quality potable water supply for an extended period.

He said the poor water quality was caused by the failure of the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works to meet the desirable final effluent quality for discharge to the Apies River, which in turn, flows into the Leeukraal Dam.

In 2021 the SAHRC found that rivers such as the Apies, Tolwane, Pienaar and Hennops, as well as Roodeplaat and Leeukraal dams, were being polluted with untreated and partially-treated sewage and sludge. It found that the consumption of polluted water in that area had been taking place since 2008.

“People and animals who drink the water are vulnerable to illnesses such as bilharzia, cholera, and hepatitis. Such exposure renders those most vulnerable like the elderly, children, and those who are ill, even more at risk of adverse health conditions,” the commission’s report said at the time. 

Yesterday, 15 people were confirmed to have lost their lives in Hammanskraal due to the cholera outbreak.

Zamantungwa Mbeki, the SAHRC’s acting Gauteng provincial manager, could not say how many of the commission's recommendations have been implemented. She said there had been provisions for water tankers to be put in Hammanskraal as a way of mitigating this issue of water quality.

“So the city of Tshwane has provided us with an action plan and how they intend to improve the maintenance of the different water treatment facilities. So with a specific time, we have to monitor that they abide by that timeline and ensure that their relationship with the department of water and sanitation is aligned,” she said.

The city of Tshwane said it received the results from sampling testing taken from multiple sites around Temba and Hammanskraal which “conclusively indicated that there are no microbiological contaminants that point to E.coli or faecal coliforms that can be linked to the cholera outbreak”.

It said this meant the water that had been distributed via the city’s bulk water distribution network in the area did not have cholera present in it. The city said it had however, widened the scope of its testing and has interviewed patients to assist in tracing the source of the contamination.

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