Human Rights Commission to engage stakeholders on water contamination in Free State

Water sample. Hand in glove holding a test tube of clear water. Concept - water purity analysis, environment, ecology. Water testing for infections, permission to swim

Water sample. Hand in glove holding a test tube of clear water. Concept - water purity analysis, environment, ecology. Water testing for infections, permission to swim

Published Aug 29, 2023


Johannesburg - The outbreak of cholera earlier this year in the Free State has been a cause for concern.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in the province says that most local municipalities are either directing spillages of raw sewage into rivers and dams, or the infrastructure is in such a bad state that sewage flows everywhere, contaminating nearby dams and rivers.

Hence, the commission in the Free State, together with the Department of Water and Sanitation and the University of the Free State, will conduct a stakeholder engagement on water contamination in Parys.

The area falls within the jurisdiction of Ngwathe Local Municipality.

The report says that the recent cholera outbreak in the country has also affected some of the Free State municipalities, such as Metsimaholo Local Municipality and Ngwathe Local Municipality. This is due to their proximity to the Vaal River.

According to the Envirocare Laboratory, the water samples that were collected from the Vaal River in Parys were contaminated with cholera.

"With the preceding in mind, the commission considered it critical to hear from the people of Ngwathe as to how the current outbreak (water contamination) has impacted their lives and what they think should be done to address the challenges," the commission said.

Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu will conduct an oversight visit today to assess the progress made at the Sedibeng Sewer Scheme Project and Vaal River System Interventions in Emfuleni and Midvaal local municipalities within the Sedibeng region.

According to the department, the ministerial working visit seeks to assess progress on the interventions being implemented by Rand Water to ensure waste water systems function optimally, and ultimately put an end to the protracted pollution of the Vaal River and its tributaries.

Last week, the deputy minister of Water and Sanitation, David Mahlobo, met key stakeholders from the Sedibeng District Municipality in Vereeniging and led a report-back on the progress of the Section 63 intervention in the district.

According to the department, Senzo Mchunu invoked and placed Emfuleni Local Municipality under Section 63 of the Water Services Act and took over water and sanitation services after it failed to manage its services, which resulted in sewer spillages in communities and into the Vaal River, polluting the raw water source.

The Department said Rand Water was appointed as an implementing agent to deliver an effective solution that would eradicate pollution in the river and its tributaries and address water and sanitation service delivery challenges that were inhibiting both social and economic development in the region.

The deputy minister was appointed by Mchunu to chair the Political Stakeholder Committee of the project in the region to keep all stakeholders abreast of the progress in the implementation of the intervention.

The department said the intervention consisted principally of two major programmes within the municipality, namely the Sedibeng Regional Sewer Scheme and the Vaal River System Intervention.

The department said Rand Water presented a comprehensive overview to the stakeholders of the progress it was making on the intervention.

Progress reported included the upgrade of critical pumping stations and collapsed pipes within Vereeniging, the refurbishment of all three (Sebokeng, Leeukuil, and Riepstruit) waste water treatment works, and the upgrading of the Rothdene pump station.

It was also reported that all capacity upgrades were in the final stages of procurement and that some were in the final stages of appointment. These included upgrades at Sebokeng (50 ML/d), Rietspruit (35 ML/d), Leeukuil (15 ML/d), and Meyerton (10 ML/d). These upgrades would create the necessary capacity to unlock economic development in the Sedibeng region.

Mahlobo indicated that although the department was satisfied that Rand Water had made significant progress with the work, it needed to further accelerate its work in Emfuleni and achieve safe and sustainably managed water and sanitation infrastructure for residents.

"Rand Water must urgently begin to deliver a workable and effective solution that will eradicate pollution in the Vaal River and its tributaries," he said.

He called on the water utility to ensure all information on the progress was readily shared with the municipality to foster a culture of a two-way flow of information between the two parties.

"The intention hereto is to improve communication with all stakeholders and to ensure they are kept informed and retain a vested interest in the work being done through the intervention. Stakeholder engagement has also been made a priority, and it is intended that participation in meaningful discussion with all parties will ensure that the intervention achieves its goals and objectives," Mahlobo said.

*This is a developing story

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