Cholera outbreak: Blame-shifting in overdrive as deaths increase

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On Monday, the health department confirmed that 15 people had died in Hammanskraal as a result of the cholera outbreak.
On Monday, the health department confirmed that 15 people had died in Hammanskraal as a result of the cholera outbreak.
Photo: Istock


Political parties and healthcare workers’ unions are up in arms about the Hammanskraal cholera outbreak and have blamed the deaths on the failure of the City of Tshwane to properly manage the Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant, which is suspected to be responsible for the outbreak. 

ActionSA filed complaints against the City of Tshwane and its former mayor, Randall Williams, with the Public Protector and the SA Human Rights Commission on Tuesday. This after 15 fatalities were confirmed by the health department on Monday.  

“Appreciating that this has been a persistent issue for almost two decades, we will not be surprised if these chapter 9 investigations uncover that other city mayors and city officials have been complicit in the precipitous decline in water access and quality in Hammanskraal and its surrounds,” said ActionSA Tshwane spokesperson Jackie Mathabathe.  

He added that Action SA was determined to work with Tshwane mayor Cilliers Brink to assist in mitigating the water crisis. 

“It is ActionSA’s belief that the current cholera outbreak, which as of Tuesday had killed 15 people in Hammanskraal, is possibly directly linked to the fact that the Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant is dysfunctional, which both Williams and the City of Tshwane have failed to address,” Mathabatha said. 

Lack of doctors could escalate situation

The SA Medical Association Trade Union (Samatu) has said that there is a significant risk that the situation will deteriorate if urgent action is not taken.  

Samatu general secretary Cedric Sihlangu said: 

Samatu is calling on the department of water and sanitation to address the issue of providing sufficient clean water supply in the affected areas as a matter of urgency. It is well known that cholera is a water-borne disease; consequently, lack of clean water supply is the leading cause of cholera outbreaks.

He urged the department to work quickly to identify the source of contamination and take appropriate action.

The shortage of doctors in public hospitals, including at Jubilee Hospital in Hammanskraal, which has had an influx of patients in the past few days, is a significant problem that has the potential to exacerbate the situation.

Health activist and Hope4Health chairperson Josias Naidoo told City Press that the outbreak was a result of the failure to provide a basic service. 

READ: Hammanskraal cholera deaths: Community has complained about water for almost two decades

“We encourage leaders to actively address the water supply challenges in the areas most affected by the outbreak. Safe tanked water and regulated bulk water delivery will help reduce the spread,” said Naidoo. 

He also urged organisations and other stakeholders to support the affected communities.

Blame-shifting and fingerpointing 

According to the ActionSA, if Williams and the City of Tshwane did not delay the cancellation of an irregular Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant tender and delayed the implementation of a subsequent investigative report, the outbreak could have been avoided.  

Last year, a forensic report looking into a R295 million tender that was awarded for upgrades to the Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant found that procurement rules had been flouted leading up to the award.

The city paid R1 million upfront to float the costs of site establishment and a further R75 million was requested by the service provider to commence the upgrade, as the service provider did not have enough capital.

Embattled businessman Edwin Sodi owns the two companies that won the tender. 

The tender was subsequently cancelled in June because of poor performance, as the employees were absent from work for considerable amounts of time. 

According to reports, neither of one Sodi’s businesses had any experience in the scope of the project. 

Following the contract’s cancellation, ActionSA requested that an investigation be carried out, while Williams delayed submitting the report to the council for three months despite requests to have it tabled so that work at the plant could begin.

 The ANC blames the situation on the DA’s alleged poor governance of Tshwane. 

“We urge the DA to take responsibility for its failure to provide water fit for human consumption and commit to addressing the problem,” said ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri.  

She said the ANC was disappointed with the DA’s “half-hearted cooperation” with the provincial and national government’s attempts to deal with the outbreak. Bhengu-Motsiri lambasted the opposition for “defensive, buck-passing and finger-pointing exercises without accepting any responsibility”.

READ: Cholera outbreak: 10-year-old girl among those baptised and later tested positive

The DA has, however, rejected the allegations levelled against its governance. It said in a statement that South Africa is facing a possible national cholera outbreak, as opposed to a localised issue in Tshwane.

“Incidences of cholera have also been reported in the Free State and Limpopo, confirming that the outbreak in Tshwane is not the result of a lapse of service delivery from a municipality that has been in government for two months. It is the result of years and years of national government neglect and previous local government regimes which bankrupted metros to the point of almost having to be placed under administration,” said DA Shadow Minister of Water and Sanitation Leon Basson.

He argued that ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula and the party were deliberately trying to mislead the public with propaganda on how the crisis is directly linked to the DA-led multiparty coalition in Tshwane while ignoring the history of the governing party’s neglect.

“This cannot be more clearly evidenced than in a parliamentary reply from the minister of water and sanitation this month, which revealed that water infrastructure backlogs will cost R89.9 billion per annum over 10 years, with 3 698 074 kilolitres of water lost every single day due to infrastructure failure and leakages. This costs South Africa R250 million every single year,” Basson added.

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