• Water and Sanitation Minister says “Trust me”

• Water Minister and Parliamentary Committee inspect polluted Rietspruit

• Parliamentary Portfolio Committee visits Vaal River Legislative change required to reconsider licensing of municipalities that were failing to run wastewater treatment plants.

• Update on Vaal River Intervention Project – A workable plan and some progress made. SAVE therefore agrees to suspend litigation until April 2020 when the progress will be further reviewed.

• Spirit of Jen Cruise on 14th March postponed 

There’s been a flurry of government visits to the Vaal in the past fortnight which gives us new hope. At last, SAVE’s alarm bells about the impact of the sewage crisis in the Vaal River are being heard.

Water and Sanitation Minister says “Trust me”
At a press conference held at the Vaal on 21st January, The Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation appealed to the community, including SAVE the VAAL, to trust her. It certainly appears from her approach that Lindiwe Sisulu is determined to resolve the Vaal sewage pollution crisis as quickly as possible. The question is, will the bureaucrats ensure the efficient processing of funds and payments to contractors so that ERWAT is able to meet its commitments and deal with the many challenges such as theft, community protests and the lack of education in some communities which results in those communities using manholes to dispose of incompatible objects into the waste water system, thus causing serious blockages.

The Minister acknowledged the many shortcomings which she inherited in the Department and made a strong commitment to deal with all the issues raised. Sisulu was unaware of the many court orders SAVE have against ELM, including the most recent, to which her Department has been joined.

SAVE environmental specialist attorney, Jeremy Ridl explained to the Minister the reasons for SAVE proceeding to get court orders firstly against the Emfuleni Local Municipality and the joining of the national Departments of Water and Sanitation, Environmental Affairs and Finance together with Gauteng Province officials to the 2018 court order against Emfuleni. He also explained that SAVE has been working to prevent ongoing pollution of the Vaal River for over 20 years.

The officials and ERWAT made a good presentation and did not sugar-coat the problems. The financing of the necessary work was explained and they highlighted the many challenges that prevail in Emfuleni.

In response to SAVE’s caution that the Minister should not make promises she cannot keep, as her predecessors have done, she said “trust me” and repeated these words a few times. She invited SAVE to take its problems to her directly – “to the top” and they will be dealt with.

The Gauteng MEC for COGTA, who is aware of the legal action, said that his Department had no intention of fighting legal action as they accepted the problem had to be resolved. The Minister held a second meeting on 27th January with community groups including SAVE and the Golden Triangle Chamber of Commerce and confirmed her intentions of cleaning up the Vaal River.

In a press statement, Minister Sisulu said that she intends seeking Cabinet permission and approval for the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to intervene and assist the Emfuleni Municipality to manage water services infrastructure.

This means that because of the challenges of capacity within the municipality, the DWS will be responsible for the management of water within the Emfuleni Municipality and assist it to provide the necessary capacity.

The press statement goes on to say that Rand Water and ERWAT, as the two implementing agents of the project, would then report directly to Minister Sisulu on their continued intervention in the Vaal. According to the statement, “Rand Water is responsible for the upgrade of three wastewater treatment plants in order to add more capacity, while ERWAT is responsible for the network, and for ensuring functional waste water works and pumping.”

SAVE fully supports Minister Sisulu in this move and we trust that Cabinet will also see the urgency and necessity of the proposal in resolving a major crisis.

Water Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu visits the Rietspruit – 4th February
In an unprecedented move, Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation took a boat trip on the Vaal Barrage and up the Rietspruit, the source of much of the pollution plaguing the Vaal River.

Sisulu was accompanied by the Mayors of Sedibeng and Emfuleni and other officials. The VIP party disembarked from the Spirit of Jen onto a flotilla of barges organised by SAVE to see the Rietspruit for herself. Toxic blue algae blooms at the Barrage were amongst the worst seen on the river.

The Minister described her tour as “an eye opener”.
Minister Sisulu commented favourably on the partnership which has been established between members of the community, NGO’s such as SAVE and organised business with the Government and ERWAT with a view to cleaning up the river and renewing the infrastructure, thereby creating jobs and laying the foundation for further development on the Vaal. She was impressed by a scheme devised by local businesswoman Rosemary Anderson to use partially treated sewage water for agricultural purposes thus reducing the capacity constraints of existing treatment plants.

The Minister said that her Human Settlements portfolio was seriously hindered by the fact that the current infrastructure was not designed to carry the exponential growth of the population in urban areas. The slow pace of progress also had a direct negative impact on the construction industry, a large creator of jobs, which is also of serious concern to the Government.

Minister Sisulu said the visit had made the situation clearer to her, and she promised to put the matter before Cabinet because she understood that there were large cost implications. Her intention is to fast track township development with the correct bulk infrastructure in order to prevent a similar situation occurring again.

Michael Gaade of SAVE said “The interest shown and the intentions of the Minister reinforces SAVE’s decision to pend the litigation against various Government entities as long as good progress is made in fixing the sewage infrastructure.”

SAVE applauds Michael Gaade, Viccy Baker and Adele Andrews on all the many hours and days that they have spent in working with the Minister’s team and escorting Sisulu’s video team to various hotspots of pollution. Thank you so much for giving so much time and effort to this project. Our appreciation goes to Rex Anderson and Neil Andrews who provided barges to take the Minister’s party up the Rietspruit and to Rosemary Anderson for her key role in these interactions.

Water & Sanitation Portfolio Committee visits the Vaal- 6th February
Influential Water and Sanitation Parliamentary Portfolio Committee embarked on a boat trip from the Barrage to the Rietspruit. The Chairperson of the Portfolio committee, Machwene Semenya said in a media statement that the broader solution to the problem is two-fold – improved legislative framework governing water infrastructure and dealing with operational and maintenance backlogs.

The amendment of the two primary legislations, the Water Services Act and National Water Act, is now pressing to ensure synergy and efficiency. between the two legal frameworks. “We are of the view that the current legal framework must be strengthened to make it more effective,” said Semenya.

Directives by the Department of Water and Sanitation to municipalities – the source of the pollution – were not working, the committee said, which resulted in the need to reconsider the licensing of municipalities that were failing to run wastewater treatment plants.

Meetings with Vaal Intervention Team – 22nd January
Since the December newsletter, the SAVE team attended two meetings with the Vaal River Intervention Team comprising of officials of the DWS, Gauteng Province, ERWAT, Rand Water MISA and ELM The main purpose of these meetings was to review progress which would enable SAVE to decide whether to leave the six months’ ‘moratorium’ in place or whether to proceed with court action.

It appears that ERWAT has a workable plan to systematically bring the Emfuleni Waste Water System back into operation. A comprehensive PowerPoint briefing set out in detail the whole intervention plan, with the relevant budgets and expenditure to date.

Photographs were provided of some of the sewage blockages that were cleared. There certainly is progress. There will be monthly reports to SAVE and all stakeholders – these reports will be compiled from the regular monthly reports of the Intervention Team. These reports would provide an understanding of the general picture without dealing will all specifics.

On this basis, SAVE has agreed to maintain the six months moratorium on court action. We applaud Minister Sisulu for her proposed action to take the project under her personal wing.