Vaal River Pollution:

Save the Vaal (SAVE) has applied to the High Court to join key government role players to the structural interdict obtained against the Emfuleni Local Municipality in 2018.

This order called for the Emfuleni Local Council and the Municipal Manager to stop pollution of the Vaal River from the council’s waste water system and to provide comprehensive plans, budgets and timelines to deal with the sewage pollution. Emfuleni Local Council has not complied with this order. Emfuleni’s plans did not provide the answers required in terms of the court order and pollution of the Vaal River is ongoing.

The new application to the court calls for the Ministers of Finance, Water and Sanitation and Environmental Affairs as well as the Gauteng Premier and the Gauteng MEC’s of Finance and Co-operative Governance & Traditional Affairs (COGTA) to be joined to the February order. In this way, these entities will be made responsible with Emfuleni Local Municipality for the prevention of the pollution of the Vaal River, and will have to report back to the court and to SAVE on plans, implementation timelines, budgets and the monitoring thereof. A court date of 14th May has been secured on the unopposed roll.

Sewage pollution of the Vaal River continues unabated. It is estimated that some 140-200 million litres of raw sewage flow into the Vaal River daily from Emfuleni’s sanitation system.

SAVE met with Gauteng COGTA and the special adviser to the Gauteng Premier after the Premier announced partial administration of the Emfuleni Local Council. Despite commitments made at a meeting with Gauteng COGTA in July 2018, SAVE has not seen the promised action from COGTA and communication from Emfuleni Local Council and the Gauteng Province has dwindled to nothing.


SAVE welcomed the deployment of the Engineering Corps of the SANDF to deal with what SAVE described as ‘emergency repairs’ required to stop the ongoing sewage pollution. The army has been working at Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant since November 2018 but has been constrained by lack of funding. 

It has been estimated that an amount of R1 billion is required to fix the system.

Many financial numbers have been bandied about but there appears to be little transparency as to actual amounts of funding, where it is going and who is monitoring expenditure.


Visible sewage pollution from the Emfuleni Waste Water Treatment system has been ongoing, contaminating the Vaal River and the streets of Emfuleni. This also impacts on communities downstream of the Vaal Barrage and represents a serious health risk.

In Loch Vaal near the mouth of the Rietspruit, blue-green algae has made its appearance. Although not normally toxic, blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) becomes toxic when the nutrient load exceeds certain levels in the water. E. Coli counts in this area were nearly 130 000 counts per 100 ml, whereas 400 counts per 100 ml is considered dangerous to human health. This is expected to increase as a new spillage is gushing even more sewage into the Rietspruit.

To our knowledge at the time of writing, none of the working modules at the Sebokeng plant are operational yet. This waste water works is a major contributor to the sewage pollution. The Rietspruit plant is not fully operational and very little capacity is being used at the Leeukuil plant as a result of a breakdown in the pump stations system. Waste water is simply not reaching the Leeukuil plant for treatment and going straight into the Vaal River.

Most pump stations are not operational. The performance of those that are working is inhibited by Eskom load shedding as these pump stations have no backup power.

In mid-town Vereeniging, the networks have collapsed with sewage seeping through the ground into the basements of buildings.

“In addition, the Emfuleni Sanitation Department remains under-resourced and its staff are unable to conduct a proper maintenance programme or even attend to the ongoing breakdowns timeously.

“The unacceptable sewage pollution of the Vaal River and indeed the abuse of Emfuleni citizens’ human right to a clean environment will continue unless all levels of Government implement properly resourced short, medium, and long-term plans”, said Malcolm Plant, Chairman of SAVE the VAAL. 

Funding appeal

SAVE is appealing to the business community as well as individuals and other organisations to support its fund-raising efforts. “We are a committee of volunteers who do not receive any personal financial or material benefit from this work. We need funding to ensure that we can continue to hold Government and any other polluters of the Vaal River accountable and responsible by enforcing South Africa’s excellent environmental and water legislation”, Plant concluded.

Contact 082-5705058 regarding funding.

For further information:

Contact: Maureen Stewart 082-57505058 or