Eric Naki
Political Editor
7 minute read
16 Aug 2018
8:50 am

SA’s municipalities are increasingly drowning in their own human waste

Eric Naki

SA is becoming an increasingly stinking and toxic mess due to ongoing sewage spills that are a symbol of years of bad governance.

A child with raw sewage flowing through his back yard.

South Africa is a stinking mess as many towns and townships have been engulfed by unattended sewage spills that, in some cases, have contaminated the water supply systems of municipalities due to decaying infrastructure and lack of maintenance by councils.

The comes against the backdrop of the recent admission in a report by Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize that at least 55 municipalities are distressed or dysfunctional.

As a result, the minister planned to dispatch technical experts to provide support to municipalities in their core functions.

He said his department had identified that 31% of the country’s municipalities were dysfunctional, while 31% were almost dysfunctional. Only 7% of municipalities were functioning well and 31% were reasonably functional.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) had been alerted to the mass sewage spills in some areas, including Zastron in the Free State and an informal settlement in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape.

In Zastron, sewage has flowed from burst pipes into the streets of the Refengkhotso and Phomolong townships since 2011 with nobody attending to the problem. The residents reported that they had no choice but to live with the unbearable stench and faeces infested with worms.

The worst-affected residential areas were Alexina Hlangabeza and Malehlohonolo Ramakatsa because the sewage flowed through the streets into their yards, leaving a stench that engulfed most of the area.

“Despite the serious environmental and health concerns, the Mohokare municipality has done nothing to resolve the problem and protect residents from a potential disease outbreak,” said Lucy Lephuthing, a DA councillor at the Municipality.

“Children are forced to remain indoors as parents cannot risk exposing them to the sewage swamp,” Lephuthing said about the situation in Hlangabeza and Ramakatsa.

She said the DA had on numerous occasions written to the Mohokare municipality and had the matter tabled in the council, but no effort had been made to address the issue.

Raw sewage spilling at a house. Photo: Submitted.

“Following further interventions to address the issue, the DA has written to the South African Human Rights Commission and the Green Scorpions, who are busy with investigations,” Lephuthing said.

The DA said its provincial Cogta spokesperson, James Letuka, would write to the Free State’s relevant portfolio committee to summon Mohokare mayor Irene Mehlomakulu to appear before the committee to account for her administration’s failure to fix mass sewage spills in both Refengkhotso and Phomolong.

The SAHRC has also been asked to intervened at Butterworth’s Skiti informal settlement in the Eastern Cape. Following an inspection visit by a local MP, Chantel King, the DA’s Phesheya Kwenciba constituency leader, she wrote a letter to the SAHRC to intervene because the human rights of the residents were being violated.

“This situation was brought to my attention on 27 April while conducting an oversight inspection of the settlement. The stench of sewage in streets and the overflow into a nearby river was almost unbearable,” King said.

She said that despite her first visit, a follow-up inspection on 29 June revealed that the situation had worsened as the sewage was also spilling into some of the shacks.

In the Northern Cape, Barkley West Primary School in De Beershoogte was last week closed by the labour department after a sewage spill caused by the collapse of the municipal sewerage system. This after the main pump near the school broke down, causing a blockage that caused sewer to spill on to the school premises.

The spill was exposed after an oversight inspection to the school by DA provincial education spokesperson Safiyia Stanfley, who was accompanied by local councillor Daisy Hendricks.

“Trenches have since been dug outside the yard to drain the water and have been filled with sand and treated with HTH,” Stanfley said.

Sewage leaking into a river. Picture: Lowvelder.

Also in the Northern Cape, amid protests by residents against Sol Plaatjie mayor Mangaliso Matika, there were also complaints about widespread sewage spills in the Galeshewe township and Roodepan in Kimberley. DA shadow minister of water and sanitation Leon Basson was joined by local councillors Ofentse Mokae and Bernadette Francis to do an inspection of infrastructure in the area.

The MP found the infrastructure had collapsed, which resulted in the spills.

“What we found was a dysfunctional Sol Plaatje Local municipality. The people of Kimberley have spoken and they desperately need a change in government where service delivery will be prioritised,” said Basson.

Earlier, a sewage spill at Ikageng township in North West was reported by residents after JB Marks municipality had failed to fix it for a long time.

This prompted the DA to write to Mayor Kgotso Khumalo and the municipal manager, Cyril Henry, requesting them to take immediate action to fix the problem.

In Mogale City in Gauteng, a formal complaint was lodged with the Green Scorpions to probe the failure of the Krugersdorp-based municipality to repair a damaged sewerage plant in the local industrial area. The sewer was overflowing on to the streets and many residents complained.

Recently, an investigation by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) found that there was rising tension and frustration within local communities due to a collapse in the state of affairs of the municipality.

Outa recently highlighted the dire situation at Emfuleni Local Municipality in Gauteng, where the organisation had engaged with businesses and residents.

“The collapse of Emfuleni’s administration is evident in the vast extent of raw sewage running through the towns and suburbs that make up the Emfuleni municipality, the larger of these being Vereeniging, Vanderbijlpark, Sharpeville and Bophelong, as it makes its way to the Vaal river,” said Dr Makhosi Khoza, Outa’s executive director on local government.

Khoza said they welcomed the plan by Mkhize to deploy teams of engineers and town planners in dysfunctional municipalities but they were concerned his plans would not go to the core of the problems and were unsustainable.

“The local communities, including ratepayers’ associations and local businesses, have been calling for this intervention for a very long time, but their cries fell on deaf ears. There is no doubt that communities are yearning for qualified engineers and town planners to address infrastructural issues relating to water, sewage, electrical sub-stations, maintenance workshops and similar matters. However, these are the symptoms of deeper systemic issues within local government and political meddling that have failed the communities in these dysfunctional municipalities,” she said.

Khoza is a former ANC MP who resigned from the ruling party in protest at endemic corruption under then president Jacob Zuma. She was on the brink of being expelled by the party’s KwaZulu-Natal branch after she spoke publicly about the problems in the ruling party.

“We liken these actions to putting a plaster across a gaping wound,” Khoza said on Mkhize’s plan.

She attributed the problems to lack of leadership and appointments that were not suitable to drive efficient and stringent administration of municipalities. She mentioned poor oversight and lack of transparency that discouraged ratepayers, local businesses and other communities from being involved in solutions.

“In fact, most municipal managers and political leadership display an attitude of not caring about the complaints of the ratepayers, who are key to financial viability and sustainability of municipalities. There are no consequences for the officials who are found wanting or even caught red-handed in corrupt activities (and) no accountability by provincial and national CoGTA authorities, who by law have a crucial oversight responsibility,” said Khoza.

Outa called on Mkhize to make public the list of officials he claimed were responsible for maladministration and corruption in the municipalities his department had blacklisted.

“Outa is also extremely concerned by Minister Mkhize’s comment that they have a blacklist of officials who were instrumental in the maladministration of municipalities.

“The reality is that having a list is one thing, but doing something about it is another,” Khoza said.