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Dysfunctional Madibeng Sewage works polluting Crocodile River

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 30 July 2010

Statement issued by Annette Lovemore, MP, Democratic Alliance Shadow Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will be writing to the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs asking for a precise timetable on the establishment of special environmental courts to enable our legal system to deal with cases warranting special attention.

Polluted water from the Crocodile River flows into Hartebeespoort Dam

While the DA has been lobbying for these courts for some time, a definitive roll-out plan from the minister has become all the more urgent in light of the state of the Madibeng Sewage works which is releasing polluted water into the Crocodile River which flows into Hartebeespoort Dam, one of the principal water sources for many South Africans in the interior of the country.

Our water system is reliant on a complicated system of interconnected networks, the integrity of which need to all be maintained to the highest standards. Any weak component within that system needs to be addressed and those responsible need to answer for failing in their mandate as custodians of our natural resources.

The DA was part of a parliamentary water and environmental affairs portfolio committee visit to Madibeng that took place on 28th and 29th of July. A visit to the Madibeng sewage treatment works  revealed a deeply concerning lack of action, with officials admitting that the plant is so dysfunctional they might just as well switch off the pumps in the plant and allow raw sewage to flow into the already heavily polluted Crocodile River.

The committee was also told that the plant should be receiving approximately 18Ml of sewage per day, and is, in fact, receiving only 4 Ml/day. This means that approximately 14 Ml/day of raw sewage flows through the streets and into the river from the sorely neglected and failing pump stations throughout the area. Alarmingly, three of the pump stations that have failed are now discharging raw sewage into the river at the point where the drinking water supply is abstracted.

Five of the six senior positions in the directorate dealing with water and wastewater are vacant. There is not a single qualified person employed at the activated sludge plant in question.

The Crocodile River flows into the Hartebeespoort Dam – one of the most heavily eutrophied dams in the country, with an abundant growth of highly toxic algae.

Madibeng is currently under administration, but the situation has not improved. A bizarre delusion seems to prevail, with officials believing that they will have achieved Green Drop status for their sewage treatment works by the end of the year.

Sadly, Madibeng is but one of the 47% of South Africa’s wastewater treatment works that received a zero Green Drop score in 2009.

Various officials in the Madibeng Municipality in North West face two separate sets of criminal charges for discharging unpurified sewage into the Crocodile River. The first charge was laid by DA councillor Eddie Barlow in 2009, and the second by the Department of Water Affairs in February of this year.

In both of the criminal cases against the municipality, the public prosecutor has agreed to proceed with the prosecutions. When this will happen is unclear. Disturbingly, the case of 8 current and former officials of Matjhabeng municipality in the Free State who have been charged under the Water Act for not attending to persistent and ongoing pollution events has not been finalised after more than three years.

Clearly, these cases are demonstrable proof that South Africa needs environmental courts that are specifically tasked with dealing with cases such as these in the future.

The current situation cannot be allowed to continue. Officials who are not sufficiently competent to deliver the services that residents deserve must be held accountable.

The Minister, in her budget speech earlier this year announced promising interventions to allow prompt judicial action in criminal cases such as these. No news of implementation of these interventions has been forthcoming.

The DA believes that it is time for the Minister to lay out a comprehensive plan detailing both the budgeting of environmental courts and the date of their implementation. We can only begin to claim that we are defending our water and environmental resources if we match rhetoric with a definite plan of action. I will be writing to the Minister in this regard.

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