DA oversight reveals critical state of infrastructure

By Leon Basson MP, DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation and

Tarnia Baker MP, DA Member on Water and Sanitation Portfolio Committee:

This press statement was presented at a press conference held in Parliament today and was chaired by DA National Spokesperson, Phumzile Van Damme MP.

The ANC’s mismanagement of our water infrastructure has brought South Africa to the brink of a water crisis that will have a disastrous humanitarian impact on all our people. As our country faces the worst drought since 1992, Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, was forced to admit that one third of all waste-water treatment plants are in a critical state. The little water we have is being entirely mismanaged and it is the poor who are suffering most.

Across the country, dam levels are lower than last year. While the drought may be a meteorological phenomenon, the crisis is one of water infrastructure management exacerbated by low rainfall. This underscores the need to properly manage our scarce water resources and prevent any loss due to inadequate infrastructure and pollution. This is vital not only for human consumption, but for food security.

Yet water losses due to leakage, commercial losses and unbilled consumption is exceptionally high. In the biggest metros losses averages at 40% – it is only the DA-run City of Cape Town that bucks this trend at a mere 21%.

The crisis before us clearly requires urgent intervention, but Minister Mokonyane is doing everything she can to obfuscate the failings of the ANC. The 2014 Blue and Green Drop reports into the state our water infrastructure are yet to be released. The DA has since filed an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) for the reports and accordingly the Minister has until next week Wednesday to release the report. We urge her to do this as soon as possible.

Although the Minister has stalled the release of the reports, countrywide oversight visits by Democratic Alliance has revealed the extent of the problem that we are facing. Our findings are extremely concerning and reflect major problems in all ANC-run provinces:

  1. North West:
  • The Lichtenburg Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) is non-functioning and sewage is pumped into the veld next to the Boikhutso Township where children play and people walk every day.
  • In Kraaipan, almost 10,000 residents in an area of 31.47 square km share only one working tap. There is no government-supplied water at all in Lokaleng (part of Kraaipan), and residents are forced to buy water from private boreholes at R100 per week.
  1. Eastern Cape:
  • In Cradock in the Eastern Cape, untreated sewage was found to be flowing directly into the Great Fish River.
  • In Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape, the WWTW is non-functional with raw sewage – still containing solids – running through an informal settlement into a neighbouring farmer’s dam.
  • In Jeffreys’s Bay, untreated sewage is being pumped out of a sewer line into a dam in a residential area, opposite the Jeffreys Bay High School.
  1. Limpopo:
  • The Bela-Bela WWTW is dysfunctional. Untreated sewage runs through the plant at 92 litres per second. Solids are taken out by a manual grid and then the untreated water flows straight into the river.
  • With the inspection of the chlorine room at Bela-Bela, we found that there was no equipment to treat the water with chlorine. When asked about chlorine treatment the operator fished a HTH swimming pool chlorine floater from a wheel barrow which he said he would add to the water the next day.
  • At Modimolle, toxic waste goes through the WWTW system and straight into the river, this includes condoms, toilet paper, sanitary towels etc.
  1. Gauteng:
  • We first visited Rooiwal in Pretoria on 10 July 2015. Here we witnessed 104.8 million litres of untreated sewage spilling into the Apies River each day. Due to the non-functioning of the sludge plant, sewage sludge is pumped straight onto an adjacent farmland that drains into a large wetland.
  • You can see methane gas burning on the adjacent farmland and the dumping of toxic waste in the veld in numerous locations. Sludge pools can be found in the Apies River and boreholes adjacent to the Apies River are polluted with E.coli. Subsequent visits in October and December revealed that nothing has changed.
  1. KwaZulu-Natal:
  • The Umkhanyakude district in northern KZN is one of the areas hardest hit by the drought, but our oversight there revealed existing infrastructure problems that have been only compounded by the shortage of rainfall.
  • The St. Lucia estuary, a world heritage site, is highly polluted as a result of a dysfunctional WWTP. Water supply to this area is also very inconsistent, with residents going 2 to 3 weeks without water at a time. The tourism industry has been badly affected.

In contrast to the dire state of plants in ANC-run provinces, our oversight visit to the newly-constructed WWTW in Malmesbury in the DA-run Western Cape exemplified how water treatment should be managed.

The WWTW was completed in 2012 at a cost of R113 million and the treatment of the water is of such a high quality that it can be sold to farmers for irrigation. The Municipality is also in the process of installing a system whereby electricity can be generated with methane case, which will mean the WWTW can be taken off the Eskom grid.

In order to address the water crisis, the DA has proposed a number of measures to deal with it in the hope of mitigating further humanitarian impact:

  • Minister Nomvula Mokonyane should immediately release the 2014 Blue and Green Drop Report to give the country an idea of the scale of the problem;
  • The waste water systems that are deemed critical in the Green Drop Report should then be placed under administration in accordance with the National Water Act, Act 36 of 1998;
  • The South African Police Service (SAPS) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should establish a specialist unit to deal with water pollution. Many dockets that are sent to the NPA do not contain sufficient information to prosecute polluters;
  • The lack of engineering skills is often a problem with regards to the maintenance of water infrastructure, especially in rural municipalities. The Western Cape provincial government has tackled this problem by maintaining a pool of engineers that can be deployed to municipalities where needed. This approach can be replicated elsewhere;
  • The Department of Water and Sanitation should prioritise legislation to amend the National Water Act to allow the Minister to withdraw a water use license from a water use authority (municipality) if certain minimum standards and requirements are not met;
  • The Minister should satisfy herself that all municipalities – especially the metros – have an adequate plan to drastically reduce non-revenue water losses; and
  • The Minister should also prioritise policy and legislation that will put South African on track towards being a country that recycles water. Grey Water is being used with great success by both the City of Cape Town and Swartland Municipality.

Section 27 of the Constitution states that everyone has the right to “sufficient food and water.” Water is vital to life and must be protected at all costs yet under the ANC we have seen this scare resource entirely mismanaged.

In 2013 former Minister of Water, Edna Molewa, stated that in South Africa 98% of water in the country is considered “fully allocated”. “[T]his means that my child and your child that is being born tomorrow has 2% of water for use going into the future.” This situation has since worsened.

It is imperative that action be taken to safeguard future generations and the DA has shown that it can be done.