Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea

Journalist


Unsafe tap water across major SA cities – these are the worst-hit areas

New findings from WaterCAN's Water Testing Week reveal alarming levels of water contamination across South Africa, with Hammanskraal being the worst-hit area.


Hammanskraal remains the worst affected area by poor water quality, initial results from WaterCAN’s second annual Water Testing Week show, and experts and residents are not expecting any improvement in South Africa, especially Gauteng.

“Map my water” is an online map showing a visual representation of the state of South Africa’s water through tests done by citizen scientists.

Tests carried out in many areas in the country, including major metros such as Johannesburg and Pretoria, showed even municipal tap water was “unsafe”, containing high levels of chemicals, including chlorine, nitrates and phosphates, and was contaminated with particles of human or animal faecal matter.

The water in areas of Buffalo City metro municipality in the Eastern Cape, the Garden Route district municipality in the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town was deemed unsafe.

Some of the City of Tshwane metropolitan municipality’s taps was also deemed unsafe, with no visible damage – “the total chlorine (content) is high and needs to be monitored, the number of blue spots indicate possible E. coli traces present in the water”.

The Hennops River in Tshwane was also deemed unsafe.

A test report noted possible faecal matter in the water.

In Johannesburg, tests of tap water around the Houghton estate, in the Ekurhuleni metropolitan municipality, Bedfordview, Randpark Ridge and Roodepoort generated “unsafe” findings or warnings because of red spots indicating possible coliform traces.

Interestingly, tests at both Hartbeespoort Dam in North West and Roodeplaat Dam outside Tshwane indicated the water was safe.

Most rivers tested across the country, however, were deemed unsafe or generated warnings because of the presence of chemicals or coliforms in the water.

The colour of the water ranged from clear to black. WaterCAN, an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, invited more than 700 individuals in all nine provinces to “play a pivotal role in monitoring and testing the quality of tap water, rivers, reservoirs and dams”.

According to WaterCAN executive manager Dr Ferrial Adam, despite multiple actions being taken against municipalities where the water was previously deemed to be unsafe and still appeared to be unsafe, places like Hammanskraal still had a long way to go in order to get out of the danger zone.

“We don’t have any results from the testing this week. But I will not be surprised (if we) find a lot of rivers and streams show high levels of pollution or sewage,” she said. “It’s not even shocking anymore.

“It will be a shock if we find it in tap water. And if we do find it, we will alert the municipality immediately.”

In July, WaterCAN laid criminal charges against City of Joburg municipal managers for sewage pollution, after revealing the city had failed to take adequate corrective action to reduce pollution in the Klip River.

“Sewage pollution is killing our river ecosystems,” she said. “South Africa is a water-scarce country, and such high levels of pollution are completely criminal. Polluting water is a violation of basic rights, including the right to health.”

In May, WaterCAN tested the water in Hammanskraal following a cholera outbreak which claimed at least 17 lives in the area.

The tests showed the water in the area was free from cholera but unsafe to drink.

“The water from the tanker can be considered for human consumption in the short term but free chlorine values should be reduced if consumption takes place over a longer period,” Adam noted.

She said with the Green Scorpions, who enforce environmental compliance, and the Special Investigating Unit already investigating cases in Hammanskraal and the City of Joburg, “we are saying if there are people who have signed off on deals which have not improved the situation and money is gone missing, they must be held accountable and they must be charged”.

Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu at the time said the department and City of Tshwane were dealing with the cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal.

Tshwane mayor Cilliers Brink said he had approached Mchunu because the Rooiwal Waste Water Works, which supplies Hammanskraal, had reached capacity and the city did not have the money or expertise to fix it quickly.

He said the city could contribute R450 million to the about R4 billion budget