Court orders Lekwa municipality to effect ‘urgent and necessary’ repairs to its water supply

Mpumalanga municipality fined R70m for water pollution

Jeanette Chabalala Senior Reporter
The Lekwa municipality in Mpumalanga was given a hefty fine by the Standerton Regional Court.
The Lekwa municipality in Mpumalanga was given a hefty fine by the Standerton Regional Court.
Image: Antonio Muchave

The Lekwa municipality in Mpumalanga has been found guilty and fined R70m for water pollution and failing to submit plans to fix its water problems.

The department of water and sanitation (DWS) opened criminal charges against several municipalities in breach of environmental laws, which included polluting of water supply sources with raw untreated sewage among other things.  

A plea and sentencing agreement was reached with three municipalities – Rand West City in Gauteng and Lekwa and Thaba Chweu councils in Mpumalanga. 

Lekwa was given the hefty fine by the Standerton Regional Court on Tuesday.

The court ordered that the money should be used to effect urgent and necessary repairs of all affected equipment, said National Prosecuting Authoritys regional spokesperson Monica Nyuswa.

It further ordered that proof of expenditure and repairs must be submitted to the department of agriculture, rural development, land and environmental affairs.

In addition, R500,000 must be paid to the department of water services and the department of agriculture, rural development, land and environmental affairs for liabilities incurred during the investigation process.

Nyuswa said municipal manager Malose Johan Lamola, who was charged on behalf of the municipality, was found guilty on seven counts relating to failure to comply with conditions stipulated in the waste management  licence, prohibition of unauthorised disposal of waste, failure to comply with a compliance notice.

The municipality was also found guilty of unlawful water use, causing significant pollution to the environment, unlawful negligent disposition and distribution of raw untreated sewage and failure to comply with directives issued.

This occurred from 2017 to 2022 when the municipality distributed and disposed of contaminated water in Standerton which resulted in failure to comply with their  licence, the municipality also negligently disposed of contaminated waste which caused pollution to the environment, Nyuswa said.

The municipality also impeded the flow of contaminated water within the public water channels and roads, they disposed of and distributed affluent raw and untreated sewage into the following municipal sub-stations: Stein pump station, Rooikoppen pump station, Johan Street pump station, Muller pump station and Taljaard pump station. Further to that the municipality also failed to comply with directives and compliance notices which had been issued to it.

Nyuswa said the state argued that the municipality had failed its community when it failed to comply with legislation relating to the protection of the environment.

The defence, however, told the court that Lamola took responsibility for his actions and is remorseful.

...the accused has started to put in place measures to remedy the situation. That the accused will ensure compliance with the law and all directives and notices issued in the future. That the municipality will ensure that urgent repairs are done to faulty equipment and pump stations.

Last year, Mpumalangas Thaba Chweu local municipality was fined R10m for water pollution and allowing sewage to spill into a river.  

DWS spokesperson Wisane Mavasa said half of the amount was suspended for a period of five years on certain conditions, which included that the accused was not convicted of any further offences in terms of National Environmental Management Act.

The accused was ordered to utilise R4,8m out of the R5m imposed on it on or before 1 November 2022, for the urgent and necessary repairs of all the identified equipment by the contractor in terms of the technical report.

The municipalities failure to treat their water was brought into sharp focus after more than 20 people died in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria due to the cholera outbreak in the area last month. 

According to the Green Drop Watch Report, not only are municipalities failing to submit action plans, but others failed to supply the water quality data to DWS, and also failed to provide evidence that they have been testing their water quality, the department revealed.

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