The sewage crisis in Emfuleni along the banks of the Vaal River has caused unbearable living conditions to residents.  SAVE the VAAL met with members of Emfuleni’s Sanitation team to verify what is happening on the ground.

The current crisis is largely due to a lack of maintenance and upgrades to infrastructure over many years, as is the case with many local councils. More recently, theft of cables and equipment has caused the collapse of several pump stations. For example, failure of pump station 2 adjacent to the Vereeniging Showgrounds has a knock-on effect on the pump station system in Three Rivers This has resulted in raw sewage flowing in the streets, into properties and eventually polluting the Vaal River. Living conditions in Three Rivers and other areas such as Sebokeng have become unbearable over the past months.

 During last week, there has been an ongoing ‘sit in’ and lock-out by Emfuleni’s sanitation department employees over a dispute concerning protective clothing and safety equipment(PPE). This has stopped maintenance and added to the crisis.

One third of the 44 pump stations in the Emfuleni waste water system are not fully operational.  These pump stations form an integral part of the waste water reticulation system which transports raw sewage to waste water treatment plants.

It is estimated that the refurbishment of the existing network in Vereeniging will take at least three years to complete.

The current crisis has resulted in an estimated 50% of sewage not reaching the waste water treatment plants, causing havoc in urban areas and polluting the Vaal River and its tributaries.

“We are fortunate that the good rains necessitated the opening of sluice gates at Vaal Dam over the past two weeks.  This has helped to dilute the sewage and avoid a major health risk and environmental disaster. The Vaal Dam sluicegates are to be closed soon when the full effect on water quality in the Vaal River and its tributaries will be felt.

Steps are being taken to deal with the crisis.  A private contractor has been appointed to take over the ongoing maintenance of the pump stations.  The maintenance of the important pump station 2 has been taken over by a third party to ensure this pump station remains operational.

Save the Vaal attended a meeting hosted by the organization, Proudly 3 Rivers on Friday when both the new Mayor and Municipal Manager of Emfuleni Local Council attempted to reassure residents that there was light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Emfuleni Local Council’s financial difficulties are well known and are due to years of mismanagement.  Non-payment of accounts to Eskom and Rand Water caused these bulk suppliers to threaten power and water cuts. Emfuleni’s new top team is taking steps to correct the situation. 

Sewage problems are further aggravated by community unrest over job allocation for a construction upgrade project at the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant This has prevented workers from entering the premises on many occasions and has brought Module 6 – the upgrade and capacity increase project – to a standstill. This important project is running more than a year late.

In February 2018, SAVE the VAAL obtained a high court order against the Emfuleni Local Council for pollution of the Vaal River and its tributaries from the Council’s sewage system. The court interdicted Emfuleni Local Council and the Municipal Manager to stop polluting the Vaal River and its tributaries and required the respondents to provide a comprehensive report on an implementation plan to prevent pollution of the Vaal River and its tributaries.  

“Emfuleni Council is clearly in contempt of this court order with regard to pollution and we have no alternative but to take the matter back to the court”, said SAVE Chairman, Malcolm Pant. 

SAVE is also concerned about the apparent lack of action on the part of the national Departments of Water and Sanitation and Environmental Affairs.   The financial woes of the Department of Water and Sanitation have been much publicised. “These national departments are continuously in contravention of South Africa’s excellent water and environmental legislation and have not stepped in to avert the Emfuleni crisis”, said Plant.

Despite the fact that Emfuleni Local Council have complained about the lack of capacity to deal with new property developments, the national and provincial Departments of Housing continue a programme to build an estimated 50 000 low cost houses, for which Emfuleni is incapable of providing services in the current financial climate. The property developers do provide some funding for infrastructure development for these housing schemes. However, SAVE the VAAL is informed that these funds, in most instances, cover about 50% of the required funding to develop the necessary infrastructure.

The Department of Water and Sanitation announced the Sedibeng Regional Sewage Scheme in 2015 (it was first announced in 2007) to provide the infrastructure and capacity for new property developments).  There are no definite implementation plans for this project although all desktop work has been completed. 

SAVE the VAAL therefore has no option other than to return to the justice system to ensure that finances are urgently made available for refurbishing existing infrastructure and to get the 20-year Sedibeng Regional Sewage System project off the ground.

From:   Maureen Stewart

Cell:  082-5705058