Raw sewage from the south of Johannesburg is running into the Vaal River, its tributaries and residential streets in the Emfuleni Municipality, according to environmental advocacy group, Save The Vaal.
In terms of a contract between the City of Joburg and Emfuleni, sewage running out of parts of Johannesburg is treated at the cash-strapped municipality’s waste-water works.
But poor maintenance, vandalism and ageing infrastructure has led to the near collapse of the municipality’s sewerage infrastructure, prompting the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to launch an investigation to determine who is to blame for the growing health hazard.
Vice-chairperson of Save the Vaal Maureen Stewart said the organisation had been embroiled in several court battles with the municipality over the waning capacity of its infrastructure and its alleged inaction over a crisis that began in 2008.
The ensuing collapse of the system in 2017, has resulted in raw sewage running in the streets of areas such as Sebokeng, Everton and Three Rivers in Vereeniging. This followed the breakdown of the pump station system, which pumps sewage against gravity to the sanitation plants.
According to SAHRC spokesperson Philip Molekoa, none of the municipalities that play a role in Emfuleni’s water waste system would take responsibility for the crisis.
The commission is calling on members of the public to send in written submissions no later than November 30.
After the municipality was placed under provincial administration in June, the military was deployed to protect the sanitation infrastructure and provide engineering expertise to aid in the repair and maintenance of the system.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngqakula was expected to visit the area today.
Stewart said since last year, the three sanitation plants, which all send effluent into the Vaal River, had been mostly non-compliant and the system broke down regularly because chlorine, an essential component of the sanitation process, had run out.
Emfuleni has 44 pump stations and when many stopped working in 2017, she saw “raw sewage flowing everywhere”.
“We started correspondence with the department of water and sanitation dating back to 2003 when we expressed concern regarding the capacity and the maintenance of the whole Rand Water system.
“Eventually, we took Emfuleni Municipality to court in 2008,” Stewart said.
Emfuleni Municipality spokesperson Makhosonke Sangweni said the national and provincial government had undertaken various interventions and the municipality was cooperating with the authorities.
He acknowledged that the municipality was responsible for the operation and maintenance of sewerage works serving several municipalities.
However, when representatives of Emfuleni Municipality appeared before the SAHRC this week, they did not take responsibility for the crisis. Neither did the City of Joburg, according to Molekoa.