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Charges laid against Joburg municipal managers for sewage pollution

The Klip River is affected by a year-long sewage spill blamed on infrastructure failure.
The Klip River is affected by a year-long sewage spill blamed on infrastructure failure.
Image: WaterCAN

The non-governmental organisation (NGO) WaterCAN has laid a criminal complaint against City of Johannesburg (CoJ), municipal manager Floyd Brink and former acting municipal manager Bryne Maduka in an attempt to ensure accountability over raw sewage flowing into rivers.

WaterCAN, an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), said the generator at the Goudkoppies wastewater treatment works broke down on April 27 last year so sewage inflow had to be rerouted to the nearby Bushkoppies works during power cuts.

Less than two weeks later cable theft at Goudkoppies and still no generator meant all inflow was rerouted to Bushkoppies, which did not have the capacity to cope with the flow.

A year later, despite a directive from the department of water & sanitation (DWS) to the CoJ, the Goudkoppies inflow is still rerouted to Bushkoppies so raw sewage is spilling into the Harringtonspruit and from there flowing into the Klip River and ultimately the Vaal river, according to the NGO.

The DWS directive ordered Maduka to stop the pollution immediately and clean up, to provide an action plan to correct noncompliance within seven working days, to appoint an environmental expert to compile a rehabilitation plan within 30 days, and to implement the full rehabilitation plan with 30 days of DWS approving the plan.

Despite this, inspections conducted by the DWS in February 2023 at Bushkoppies and at Goudkoppies in Riversdale in March showed no improvement, said WaterCAN, which obtained copies of the DWS directive and reports on site visits through a request for information in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

Earlier this month, WaterCAN said it conducted laboratory tests in Eikenhof and high levels of E. coli were found in the Klip River, which indicates that there are high levels of spillage from the wastewater treatment plants.

“Section 19 and 20 of the National Water Act deals with prevention and remedying the effects of pollution, and that is our basis for laying the criminal charges against CoJ. The failure to comply with the directive constitutes a criminal offence in terms of Section 151 of the Act and, as such, CoJ and the municipal manager should be held to account in accordance with the criminal justice system,” said Asavela Kakaza, Outa’s legal project manager.

Dr Ferrial Adam, executive manager at WaterCAN said: “Sewage pollution is killing our river ecosystems. South Africa is a water-scarce country and such high levels of pollution are completely criminal. It is time to hold people accountable for not doing their jobs. Polluting water is a violation of basic rights, including the right to health.”



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