Vaal water crisis: 'Why are investigations only beginning now?'

2018-11-19 22:33
(File, Yandisa Monakali)

(File, Yandisa Monakali)

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"We believe that human rights were infringed upon in the Vaal and people should be held to account."

This was one of the submissions, made by Sonnyboy Bapela of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), to the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) inquiry into the water crisis in and around the Vaal River.

It was one of several submissions the department made to the SAHRC inquiry on Monday.

The SAHRC held the second session of its inquiry into how about 150 megalitres of raw sewage spilled into the Vaal River daily, affecting the quality of life of residents in the area.

Sewage flowing from poorly managed drains and poor water treatment infrastructure have contributed to the contamination of water in the river.

Residents from the Midvaal and Emfuleni municipalities have long complained about sewage flowing into their streets and homes, and of foul smells in the air.

The commission's investigation started on September 25, following a site inspection of the river during which it observed what it has labelled "a violation of the basic rights to access to clean water, clean environment and human dignity".

Bapela, the department's chief director for compliance, said there was an investigation into the Emfuleni Municipality's delivery of water services and the maintenance of infrastructure.

"The municipality received directives from the water and sanitation department to comply with in regard to dealing with the sewage and water contamination, but ignored them and never advanced reasons why it did not carry them out", Bapela said.

"We are now investigating criminal charges in the Vaal area, and hope to conclude our investigations in six months, which may lead to possible prosecution against those found to have transgressed the law," he added.

READ: Municipalities to blame for 'contamination of Vaal River system' - Parliament

Some residents in the area claim the sewage flowing onto their streets and the toxins filling the air have made them sick.

The SAHRC's inquiry aims to clarify whether government structures failed to ensure that communities were not deliberately exposed to the contaminated water, and whether they could have foreseen the short- and long-term impact the contamination would have on the area.

The commission's Osmond Mngomezulu said people have been complaining about serious contamination problems since 2008, and asked if anyone had since been held to account.

"The water and flowing issue [did] not begin this year, but is historical, why are investigations only beginning now?"

In an attempt to respond, the department's Grant Walters said: "Investigations were still at an early stage and all shall be revealed with time."

The DEA says R5bn is currently needed to fix the damaged and broken water infrastructure in the area. But it warns that if the investigations and criminal proceedings take too long, that amount may double.

"The problem continues, with sewage still flowing, and needs attention urgently," Bapela said.

The Democratic Alliance's Midvaal Mayor Bongani Baloyi also appeared before the inquiry on Monday.

His municipality borders the ANC-led Emfuleni council and the two municipalities share some sanitation infrastructure.

Baloyi blamed politicking for the troubles his municipality faced.

"There have been five MECs in the human settlement department that I have dealt with since 2011, and it is frustrating," he revealed.

"Every time you expect an outcome, you have to restart the process with a new MEC.

The Ekurhuleni Municipality and petro-chemicals giant Sasol will appear before the inquiry on Tuesday.

The City of Joburg and National Treasury are expected to make submissions on Wednesday.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  water

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