Carolina Water Woes A Collective Failure of Water Governance

Marti Wenger MP

DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs

The town of Carolina in Mpumalanga is an example of a collective failure of water governance. Both the Department of Water and the Chief Albert Luthuli Municipality failed in their duties to secure the safe supply of drinking water.

Last week I visited Carolina and surrounds along with DA MP Lourie Bosman MP and local DA councillor Helen Mcginn, following continued complaints from residents about the dire situation regarding drinking water. The town’s water woes attracted national attention early this year when discharges from nearby mines infiltrated the Boesmanspruit dam, the abstraction point for the town’s water treatment works (WTW). The poor quality of the water from the dam posed a significant challenge to the conventional treatment process at the WTW, resulting in unacceptable water quality.

The town and the Caropark and Silobela townships have been without drinking water for six months. I witnessed young children and elderly residents having to walk long distances to collect drinking water from Jojo tanks. The purification plant can only cater for 3.5 megalitres of water per day, whilst the demand is between 5 and 6 megalitres. There has been an improvement recently in water leaving the plant but the sedimentation in the pipes contaminates the water. Scraping of the pipes is in process but this appears to be aggravating the situation.

The water problems are, however, not limited to drinking water. In Silobela, manholes are overflowing with sewage that is eventually making its way into the Boesmanspruit dam. I also saw sewage flowing into the Rooival dam, and found a pump station that was not operational. In addition, the waste disposal site is operating without a permit and refuse is being burnt, with smoke and fumes filling the whole area. It is evident that the Chief Albert Luthuli municipality, in which Carolina and Silobela fall, is failing to perform the most basic of municipal functions.

Both the Department of Water and the Chief Albert Luthuli Municipality have much to answer for. While attributing liability in terms of the mine discharge is still ongoing, the question remains: why did the discharge go unnoticed in the first place? Surely the Department of Water should be inspecting mines regularly to ensure they comply with the terms of their water use licences?

I will be submitting detailed parliamentary questions on the Department’s record of inspections at each of the mines in the area, and endeavour to determine how, if at all, the Department responded to information from the public regarding discharge from the mines in advance of the Carolina water crisis.

While the Department of Water is correctly contemplating criminal charges against mines that may have been responsible for the mine water discharges which affected water quality in the Boemanspruit dam, they should similarly be taking action against the municipality. As the national regulator, the Department of Water cannot allow municipalities to descend into water governance chaos.

Chief Albert Luthuli municipality itself should have been able to detect risks to the Boemanspruit dam before the problems occurred. But evidently this municipality is failing at numerous aspects of water governance. In this regard I intend to ask the Minister what action she will take against the municipality. It should not be left to community organisations to take the municipality to court when it fails in its mandate. The national government itself should be laying criminal charges against municipal officials who repeatedly fail to deliver on their statutory water responsibilities.

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