Articles of Interest
So what’s the latest with the sewerage situation?
Posted 29 May 2019
1996 – 2019
For too many years now – we have had sewerage pollution plague the Vaal area.
In September last year, we were filled with hope when the Human Right’s Commission conducted a formal enquiry over three days, to establish if the extent of the sewerage pollution was in fact a violation of the human rights of Vaal residents. The commissioners called DWS, Emfuleni, Rand Water and other entities to account and respond to the input received from a broad representation of the negatively affected parties. When DWS was asked by the lead Human Rights Commissioner how much was needed to address the sewerage pollution in the Vaal – DWS answered that R5 billion was needed to put a halt to the sewerage pollution in the Vaal region.
Then a month later, in October last year – our hope was further boosted when our Minister of Finance announced that the SANDF would be sent to the Vaal tasked with “the rehabilitation of the Vaal River System”. Not long afterward in November and December – the Vaal Army came to the Vaal. We had presumed that funding would have been organised for the tremendous task they had been given, which for the greater part of a decade, DWS, Rand Water and Emfuleni had not managed to achieve. However for some inexplicable reason, no budget was afforded the Army - so they obviously did not achieve anything that they planned to achieve throughout the past 6 months and they have just used their own usual operating budgets, which obviously do not include any budgets for all the interventions that are required to address the Vaal sewerage issues.
In February this year, at a continuation of the Human Rights Commission investigation, DWS confirmed that it would cost in excess of R1billion to ensure all the 44 pump stations were working in the Vaal’s waste water network. This figure tied in with the bulk figure of R5 billion which was mentioned 5 months before.
In early April this year DWS’s Minister came down to Sebokeng to announce to great pomp and ceremony that R341 million would be allocated in the 2018/2020 budget with the project completed by 31 March 2020 which would be “to ensure that all wastewater treatment infrastructures are resuscitated to an operational state and pollution in the Vaal River is stopped” (from a document he gave out on the day). In the same document, it was detailed how Module 6 (Sebokeng wwtw) still needed R185 million to be completed and would be provided in the 2018/2019 budget. This figure was not part of the R341 million but a separate figure. Anyone who knew the real budgets required - felt totally dejected and could not understand what there was so much fanfare about a figure which was grossly inadequate.
Then on the 16th of May this year, Treasury came down, once again to significant fanfare (including a river cruise in Vereeniging and a luncheon afterwards elsewhere) where they announced that they are only giving a budget of a total of R241 million. The shortfall from the R341 million that was announced a month before by the Minister, was because R100 million was an amount allocated to network connections for Boikatong (to feed into Leeukuil). This R100 million was in fact provided a few years ago to Rand Water by Human Settlements for this specific project (it has been ring-fenced). So it seems not entirely transparent to include this as part of the R341 million that was announced, since it was made available a number of years ago and is not part of the budget needed to address all the current issues with the pump stations, networks or the three wwtw. So at best this is confusing at worst it is misleading to include this figure to what appears, to pump it up to appear R341 million, when it was really only R241 million.
So of the R241 million, it was indicated by Treasury that R100 million will go towards Module 6 (which should have been completed with its own adequate budget over a year ago). R62 million for the army (to reimburse them for what they have spent so far), R2 million for ERWAT (what they say they have spent so far) and that leaves us with R78 million.
The scope that ERWAT, the Army and Metsi a Lekoa advised to government was that they needed is over a R1billion to address the critical basic areas of concern so they could get quick wins, regarding stopping raw sewerage pollution from running into homes, townships, suburbs, CBS’s, municipal offices, churches, schools, farm lands, spruits and rivers.
And now we find out that there is R78 million.
Not sure what to say about this.
Questions could be posed – take your pic.
- Is there really no more money in Treasury to assist with this intervention, to stop sewerage entering a strategically important water source, besides violating human rights?
- Do the authorities not understand the full extent of the problem?
- Do the authorities not care?
- Is there some cat that will be pulled out of the bag, such as the rumoured R1.2billion secured loan from DBSA (Development Bank of South Africa) and then some more will miraculously materialise to make up the R5 billion needed?
In the meantime – residents are left in the dark, with no consideration shown to them to update them on the dire situation that affects their daily lives. Some residents’ reality is to have sewerage surrounding their homes and schools as many of us watch clean water pouring down the roads, while the municipality struggles to pay their monthly Rand Water bill. Calls to call centres go unanswered and people responsible for managing the water and sanitation dept can hardly pick up their phones or answer emails anymore, since they are drowning in complaints and problems. They know full well that they can’t rectify these problems since their budget is grossly inadequate as well as their shortage of vehicles, regular access to diesel and petrol, staffing and tools. Today they are equipped with a tenth of the necessary budget that they used to have 10 years ago. There is no hope for them or us if this inadequate budget is not addressed along with the R5billion needed.
Conversely, all this doom and gloom could be totally turned around if someone who could engender unity between ELM, Unions, Business and the Residents and ram the Vaal Ship into as many National and Provincial doors – demanding that they hear our plight and give us the necessary budget. Human Settlements owe the Vaal Region a few billion, for not increasing the necessary waste water bulk infrastructure, when they just went ahead and built tens of thousands of RDP houses. Demand compensation for this. The same goes for the City of Johannesburg, the West Rand and East Rand, where we are left with the problems of their sewerage run offs – they also need to compensate us adequately, far more so than they are currently doing. Demand DWS to uphold their responsibility to the constitution and direct the necessary funding here to protect the strategically important Vaal River.
Let’s together demand our fair share – to restore the Vaal Region to a place where all residents are once again proud to live.
This will then free up the dozens of developments that have been signed off, but the sewerage moratorium is the only thing holding them up. Some include:-
- A retirement village of 1200 units
- Private hospital of 250 beds
- Student accommodation of 25,000 beds over 50 hectares
- Residential homes – over 1000.
- Two hotels
- Dozens more.
If only we could make someone influential in Government understand that the R5 billion needed is a sound investment in the Vaal, which will receive handsome dividends.
Together – let’s start demanding this. We deserve nothing less.
The problem with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is not, as has been written recently on these pages, a lack of funding. It’s not even a lack of equipment, or technology. It’s a lack of political will to spend money properly and right-size the force for its 21stcentury roles and obligations.
There are two schools of thought on what to do about the SANDF.
One is that there is not enough funding and that the military cannot carry out its mandated functions without a cash injection. This argument is often made by those with a vested interest in the defence establishment: serving and old soldiers, militarists, arms dealers, and other fellow travellers. This group routinely points out that the decline in funding which has shrunk by approximately 5% per annum in real terms over the last two decades to around one percent of GDP, is responsible for a loss of defence capabilities.
The other, extreme argument is that we would be better off without a defence force, and that it should be allowed to die or, better still, be abolished altogether.
The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in between. While the utility of the current force lends credence to the second position since the country’s defence would currently hardly suffer if we did away with the SANDF right now, it’s an insurance policy which you hope you will never require.
The problem is that we are, to extend the analogy, attempting comprehensive cover when what we really need is a balance of third party, fire and theft.
The institutional response to date is to routinely moan, seek excuses, scaremonger and, in more sage tones, to attempt some serious debate through the re-issuing of a Defence Review in 2014. The document, produced after three tortuous years of to’ing and fro’ing, noted that the army was unable to meet standing commitments being “too poorly equipped and funded to execute the widening spectrum of tasks to the desired level”. It warned that ‘The Defence Force is in a critical state of decline, characterised by: force imbalance between capabilities; block obsolescence and unaffordability of many of its main operating systems; a disproportionate tooth-to-tail ratio; the inability to meet current standing defence commitments; and the lack of critical mobility.”
The Review is strategically irrelevant, however, aside from a superficial public relations function, since it has not yet been able to focus the attention of policymakers on the central problem, and simply instead added more tasks to an already unmanageable agenda. It offers less of rational analysis than a further wish-list.
Margaret Anstee once commented about the gulf between her mandate as a UN peacekeeper in Angola and the number of troops assigned for the task: “I have been given a 747 to fly with only enough fuel for a DC-3.” The same is true for the SANDF. There is a mismatch between ambitions of confronting cyber attacks, for example, with the reality of some of the SANDF’s operating software which dates back to the 1980s.
Consider some of the following stats about the contemporary SANDF.
Of the regular force of 76,000 men and women, some 10% are medically fit enough to be deployable. In effect, given the need for rotation and training, this means around 2,000 are available. Yet we have around 15 companies deployed on our borders and a requirement for 22. The difference is made up by the 20,000 Reserves, of which some 15,000 are currently deployed. With more generals now than during border war years (when the force was, with National Servicemen. Commandos and Citizen Force campers, twice as large), there are critical shortages in doctors, naval engineers, pilots, and aircraft technicians. As a result, just two of 12 C-130 transport aircraft are reportedly currently flying, as are five each of the Gripen fighter-jets (of 26 expensively supplied) and Hawk trainers (of 24), and less than one-third of the 35 Oryx helicopters. The Navy is hardly better off. Just one (of three) German Type 209 submarines is fully operational, and one of the four Meko-class corvettes.
To make up critical skills shortages the SANDF has been forced to import personnel. There are now hundreds of Cubans mainly in technical roles, including the management and maintenance of the ground transport fleet. These relations centre today apparently less on the revolutionary Hasta la Victoria Siempre (“until victory, always”)than a resigned and transactional Hasta luego (“until whenever”).
There is undoubtedly a budget problem. The defence spending breakdown should, in an ideal world, be 40% (salaries): 30% (capital): 30% (operational). Today it is more like 80:5:15. As a result, there is no money for new equipment and operational expenditure is severely limited.
But the budget problem centres on people. The SANDF has far too many and cannot get rid of those who cannot fight. This is summed up in the average age of personnel which reputedly is 48 and, ideally, should be 20 years younger.
Of course, any government is fearful of making 50,000 SANDF members redundant, especially when their skill sets are limited and level of politicisation high. Politicians hate hard choices. Yet they should not make the consequences of their failing the responsibility of the military, as a result of which the SANDF has become a welfare and not a warfare agency. It is hunkered down, refusing to engage, coming up instead with possibly well-meaning and certainly fine-sounding but entirely aspirational plans.
If it is to safeguard its own future and stop being a waste of precious resources, which it indubitably is in its current state and structure, the SANDF desperately needs to admit its personnel problems, right-size, professionalise and depoliticise. Rather than another 340-page strategy document, it can display the leadership its professes to exemplify by starting at both the top and the bottom: by halving the number of generals, putting the unfit on notice, and replacing every two privates over 30 with one 18-year-old.
Article by: Daily Maverick
SANDF’s Part-Time Soldiers Deployed to Operation VAAL RIVER Receive Visit from Chief Defence Reserves
SANDF’s Part-Time Soldiers Deployed to Operation VAAL RIVER Receive Visit from Chief Defence Reserves, 19 January 2019
Chief Defence Reserves (C Def Res), Major General R.C. Andersen called in on members of the South African Army Reserve Force on Saturday 19 January 2019, serving in Gauteng's Emfuleni Local Municipality as part of Project VAAL RIVER. Maj Gen Andersen was accompanied on his visit to the project’s Officer Commanding, Colonel A. Mahapa by Director Army Reserves (D Army Res), Brigadier General H.J.G. Kamffer; Special Forces Brigade’s Senior Staff Officer (SSO) Reserve Force, Lieutenant Colonel K.F. van Heerden; and Project KOBA-TLALA's SSO Policy, Strategy and Planning, Lt Col P.J. Coetzer.
Regular and Reserve Force Army troops have been deployed to the area in earnest since November 2018, with SA Army Engineer Formation, including its Reserve Force units furnishing members as part of the urgent efforts to stem the unabated flow of sewerage to the Vaal that also affects communities in Boipatong, Sebokeng, Sharpeville and Vereeniging. The Army's technical teams and guards are tackling the ageing sewerage infrastructure as well as the vandalism and criminality that hamper its proper functioning to rehabilitate the Vaal River system, which supplies water to millions in and around Gauteng.
The visiting delegation’s arrival to the Project VAAL RIVER base in Vanderbijlpark was welcomed by Col Mahapa and his headquarters staff, who gave the guests a tour of the base Operations/Duty Room and facilities established at the municipal water workshop. Troops are bivouacked in Weatherhaven shelters and dome (“chopper”) tents serviced by graded and crushed cinder brick roadways. The amenities on hand include a South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) staffed sickbay seeing to medical needs, as well as an on-site field kitchen and mess preparing and serving meals. A short senior officers’ conference was followed by Col Mahapa’s presentation on the SA Army intervention in the Emfuleni Local Municipality, unpacking the progress being made and challenges encountered in the course of the project to date.
Maj Gen Andersen was taken on a visit to the Project VAAL RIVER Communication/CIMIC Center in Vanderbijlpark, Boitumelo wastewater pump station and finally on to the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) where he addressed a large body of Reserve Force members. He praised the contingent's seamless service alongside their Regular Force counterparts in the spirit of the ‘One Force Concept’, and was appreciative of being afforded the opportunity to see the conditions of service under which they executed their duties. A constructive questions and answers session yielded valuable outlooks from troops on the ground and responses from C Def Res and D Army Res.
The Reserve Force component contributing to Project VAAL RIVER flies the flag proudly in the Emfuleni Local Municipality and continues with the endeavour’s engineering solutions and Project KOBA-TLALA CIMIC tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) to coordinate responses to the sewerage crisis. This is already improving infrastructure service delivery to the region's embattled communities. The challenges faced by the SANDF in this undertaking are not lost on C Def Res, having gained valuable insights from Col Mahapa and his subordinates regarding sanitary conditions, ablutions, transport, accommodation, medical support and rules of engagement (ROEs) underpinning all actions moving forward. The Reserves’ presence promotes and markets the prized contribution made by the part-time citizen soldier, while C Def Res plays an important role in providing strategic direction for the effective application of the specialist capabilities brought to the fore by Reserves not only for combat but also reconstruction and development as shown on the banks of the Vaal.
Post and photographs by Captain Jacques de Vries
Directorate Army Reserves
Vaal Army restores our people's dignity
Visible change in the Vaal thanks to the SA National Defence Force’ special task team
Happiness and dignity was restored for one Sebokeng family whose home had sewage running through it because of a blocked manhole on the sewage line. Since February 2018 Mrs Emily Khumalo had been begging for assistance from the municipality. Her plea fell onto deaf ears.
The Army fixed the problem and her property’s plumbing in two days.
Article by: Sedibeng Ster
SANDF sends more engineers to sort out Vaal River contamination
The number of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) specialised engineers deployed to find solutions to the contamination of the Vaal River, has been increased to just over 300 – up from 200 initially.
Untreated waste has been making its way into the river, causing blocked drains and flowing into the local community's homes and streets.
But, according to SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, the troops who arrived in November have made progress.
"The engineers have so far managed to clean all the water pumps which were meant to be cleaned by now, and we are pleased with the progress," Mafi said.
"The engineers are working closely with other suppliers in the area and I will be visiting them on Thursday to be let [them] in on the progress and immediate plans [for] other projects in the pipeline," Mafi committed.
Mafi added that the defence force wanted to accomplish its mission by December 2019 and said it would do everything necessary to make sure that the process was completed by the deadline date.
"We have also deployed troops who are guarding all our workspaces as precautionary measures, so that we are not set back on our mission," Mafi said.
The Emfuleni Local Municipality failed to refurbish water treatment facilities and repair damaged infrastructure, which caused raw sewage to flow into people's homes.
Some residents claimed the foul smell in the area made them sick and they demanded urgent attention.
The situation prompted the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to establish an inquiry to determine whether the spillage amounted to an infringement of basic human rights.
The municipality has since been placed under administration and the mayor, Jacob Khawe, resigned on Thursday.
Work on Vaal river system rehabilitation project gets under way
7th December 2018
CREAMER MEDIA SENIOR DEPUTY EDITOR
Work on the Vaal River System rehabilitation project, in Sebokeng, is now under way after a technical team from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) completed its assessments, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says.
Following the deployment by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni of SANDF technical teams to restore infrastructure, including dysfunctional plants and substations, at the polluted Vaal River System, the team has, over the past three to four weeks, assessed the issues and produced a final report on what needs to be done.
The defence force embarked on rehabilitation assistance in October after it emerged that the communities in Vereeniging, Sebokeng, Boipatong and Sharpeville faced water pollution caused by raw sewage allegedly flowing into the river from pumpstations in the Emfuleni municipality.
While there is a lot of rehabilitation work ahead, owing to a range of challenges, including a lack of maintenance, ageing infrastructure, a lack of capacity, growing populations and vandalism, Mapisa-Nqakula told media during a site visit in November, much progress had been made over the last two decades.
“It is not as though nothing was being done, but there may not have been as much capacity as was required,” she noted.
Priority work has started on two of the Sebokeng wastewater treatment plant’s four primary sedimentation tanks.
Visible improvement is expected after three weeks.
In addition, the region forms part of a larger intervention service, with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) requesting SANDF special basic services intervention across 57 municipalities.
Cogta Deputy Minister Obed Bapela says 57 high-priority municipalities have been identified for intervention; however, not all of them will actually require SANDF intervention.
About R5-billion has been set aside for this exercise.
The recovery plans for the municipalities, including Emfuleni, envisage teams being dispatched to reinforce governance and build long-lasting capacity and sustainability, improve infrastructure and expand new services, as well as correct historical misalignment between bulk and reticulation services.
Troops battle Vaal sewage 'invasion'
Aim is to avert Day Zero in Gauteng, fix collapsed sewerage
An army engineer directs an excavator clearing debris from a blocked section at a sewage
treatment plant in the Vaal River system.
The Gauteng government has set up a war room in a bid to stave off a water crisis.
Local, provincial and national government officials are working with civilian and military water security experts. Their mission is to reduce Gauteng's water consumption and fix collapsing sewage plants.
Driving the move is a report that lays bare the water crisis facing SA's economic hub.
"This is a crisis. We have been given the instruction that Day Zero cannot happen in Gauteng. That comes from government. We have been told these facilities must be brought back on line," said Col Andries Mahapa, commanding officer of 1 Construction Regiment, the army unit working to repair treatment plants on the Vaal River.
The report, "Water Security Plan for the Gauteng City Region", was ordered by Gauteng premier David Makhura at the time of Cape Town's water shortage last summer. It reveals:
- Gauteng residents each consume more than 300l of water a day, the highest rate in the country and nearly double the international average;
- The province's population is growing by nearly 300,000 a year;
- Raw sewage is the biggest contributor to water pollution in Gauteng;
- Rand Water is forced to draw more water than its department of water and sanitation licence permits; and
- Drinking water from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is used to flush pollution out of the sewage-contaminated Integrated Vaal River System.
Mahapa said that of the region's three water treatment plants, two were not operational and one was semi-operational. None of the 44 pump houses were working.
Vandalism, theft and the lack of money for maintenance and purification chemicals have collapsed the sewage infrastructure.
Last month the South African Human Rights Commission said an estimated 150Ml of sewage flowed into the Vaal River every day.
During a visit to the area this week, a Sunday Times team found soldiers guarding sewage facilities. Army engineers were repairing pump houses from which faeces flowed. Some troops used construction vehicles to remove solid sewage from overflowing processing tanks; others drained pump houses that were submerged in faeces.
"Once all of this is out we will have to get in there, take out the remains of the broken pumps, which have been vandalised, and install new ones," said Staff Sgt Mandla Dickson at the Sebokeng water treatment plant.
"What we are doing now is exactly what we did while on peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The damage that we encountered there, which was from years of war and neglect, is equivalent to what we are finding here."
The soldiers have been deployed to 44 collapsed facilities. They are supported by armoured vehicles. Last month thieves killed two security guards at the Meyerton water treatment facility.
"These facilities are now military zones," said Mahapa, whose 200 troops will soon to be reinforced by 300 more. "We just pray we do not have to shoot anyone."
He said the army was working with the department of water and sanitation, municipal officials and engineers.
Makhura told the Sunday Times that rebuilding and repairing 44 sewage pump stations that were leaking into the Vaal River needed to be done immediately.
"If Emfuleni's issues are not addressed the disaster will impact beyond Gauteng."
Mike Muller, a former water affairs director-general who helped write the water security plan, said the research showed that though sewage pollution was increasing, R15bn was being budgeted to address acid mine drainage, "which is not the greatest pollutant".
WATCH | Soldiers try to alleviate the flow of raw sewage into the Vaal river
"Concerning is the vast amount of clean water that is sometimes used to flush pollution from the rivers, which reduces Gauteng's water security."
He said careful decisions needed to be made on where to spend money.
The report's co-author, Gillian Maree, said that if the water security issues were dealt with now they would be manageable.
"The plan looks at what it means to be water secure, which is not only about having enough water during a drought, but also having functional waste-water treatment works, reducing risks from flash floods because of poor stormwater systems, and having sufficient quality and quantity of water.
"Until the Lesotho Highlands Water Project phase two comes on line, we face a water supply risk. With Gautengers consuming on average 300l per day we must be careful with our water."
Rand Water spokesperson Justice Mohale said the organisation could not increase its water withdrawal levels from Lesotho until phase two of the project came on line in 2026.
Article by Sunday Times
Unprecedented levels of military activity deployed to secure infrastructure
Vaal crime syndicates are running for cover this week as unprecedented levels of intelligence and military activity are deployed to both secure water and related infrastructure and prepare for an expected top-level tour of the Minister of Defence and Executive Mayor Jacob Khawe.
Although actual anti-pollution deployment of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) in the Vaal was expected on Sunday 18 November, this did not take place. Vaalweekblad has learned from intelligence sources this was largely due to security issues and not necessarily the official reason that administrative issues were holding up deployment.
The Emfuleni Local Municipality (ELM) under leadership of Municipal Manager Oupa Nkoane is providing full logistical and other support for the SA Army deployment including a temporary base to house them. The Golden Triangle Chamber of Commerce (GTCoC) also welcomed the SA Army deployment. Rosemary Anderson, owner of Stone Haven and GTCoC project coordinator on Vaal River pollution, said: “We welcome our Army with open arms and will give them every support we can”. High levels of intelligence and military activity is already destabilising organised criminal activity in the Vaal , intelligence sources tol Vaalweekblad. “We must keep criminal elements off balance as to exact timing of deployments as much as we need to deter their activities against strategic infrastructure,” a number of intelligence sources told Vaalweekblad this week. The intelligence and SA Army deployments are also expected to have a major beneficial effect on the Vaal security and crime situation as the Festive Season approaches and is expected to benefit the region in this regard for many months. Both the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nquakula and Emfuleni Executive Mayor Jacob Khawe are expected to meet in the Vaal on Friday 23 November and tour affected infrastructure sites.
An official media statement was still expected in this regard but had not been issued at time of going to publication. Unprecedented levels of undercover intelligence activity – from a spectrum of state agencies and also the Emfuleni Local Municipality (ELM) Safety and Security Department – has been taking place in the Vaal in preparation for both Army deployment, the high-level visit and related operations. This is to both conduct official risk assessments as well as to gather relevant intelligence on the task of securing infrastructure – involving the deployment of intelligence assets almost as large as the actual deployment of military personnel, sources informed Vaalweekblad. Military Intelligence, the State Security Agency, the ELM Safety and Security department as well as the Crime Intelligence division of the SA Police Service are said to be involved and coordinating their efforts for the anti-pollution project, expected to last at least a year. As many as 400 Army personnel are expected to be deployed still this week to protect at least 46 strategic infrastructure sites in the Vaal as a precursor to then tackling the actual pollution spillage crisis in the Vaal River system , assisted by a range of government and other experts.
The site of the Vanderbijlpark temporary SA Army base from which deployments across Emfuleni will be conducted is known to Vaalweekblad but is not yet being published due to security reasons. The military intervention has been welcomed by civil society and the business community as a stabilisation step to a permanent solution and was first discussed earlier this month between the GTCoC and other interest groups and the SANDF.
Article by Vaal Weekblad
Restoration of polluted Vaal River system will take a year: army
Sewage has been running into the Vaal River for years, but the problem grew worse this year after the cash-strapped local municipality was unable to perform maintenance and infrastructure upgrades.
The South African National Defence (SANDF) is preparing to deploy technical teams to restore infrastructure at the polluted Vaal River system, and has warned criminals that troops will protect its equipment.
Initial assessments have been done and members of the army are expected to visit the area again on November 18.
This comes after the announcement by finance minister Tito Mboweni during his medium-term budget policy speech in October that the military had been called on to assist with engineering and other expertise to resolve the crisis in the Vaal River system.
Raw sewage has been flowing into the river from pump stations in the Emfuleni
Municipality on the northern bank of the river, posing environmental and health risks. Communities affected by the pollution include Vereeniging‚ Sebokeng‚ Boipatong and Sharpeville.
Major General TT Xundu told TimesLIVE that a conceptual assessment was done at the Vaal River a week after the announcement by Mboweni.
“We found that the plants and substations are dysfunctional and not working.
“There are leakages and pipes that are burst, and all those things are threatening the welfare of the people,” Xundu said.
He said following the conceptual assessment, a technical assessment was conducted with the municipality.
“We are going to look at our limited engineering capabilities and see what we can do assist, in particular the substations and the plants.”
Xundu said the army would not allow its work to be impeded by thieves.
“All of that area will be declared a military zone, so that the military can move in and secure the area, and make sure that the equipment that is going to be used there is not going to be stolen or vandalised.”
In September, the South African Human Rights Commission conducted a site inspection of the Vaal River following allegations of approximately 150 megalitres of raw sewage spilling into the river daily. It stated: “The site inspection has revealed a prima facie violation of the rights of access to clean water, clean environment and human dignity.” The commission invited written submissions about the crisis to be sent to it by November 30.
Xundu said the project was expected to take a year.
“We are availing ourselves to cooperate with all the stakeholders that are there,” he said.
Maureen Stewart, vice-chairperson of Save the Vaal Environment (Save), confirmed army members have visited the Vaal. Their intention, she said, was “to bring in quite a number of troops to secure infrastructure, which is subject to theft and vandalism”.
Stewart said the army would also look at repairs and maintenance to stop sewage running into the river.
She said the non-government organisation welcomed the army’s involvement.
“We are happy to work with anybody who is going to solve the problem. Our aim is to see this river cleaned up and these problems resolved.”
Article by: Times Live
Human Rights Commission inquiry into pollution of the Vaal River
An ecological disaster has unfolded as raw sewage and industrial pollutants flow into parts of the Vaal River. The South African Human Rights Commission held a formal inquiry into the spillage of toxic effluent into the river last week. Read the submission of Mrs Rosemary Anderson, well-known local business woman, below.
An ecological disaster has unfolded as raw sewage and industrial pollutants flow into parts of the Vaal River. The South African Human Rights Commission held a formal inquiry into the spillage of toxic effluent into the Vaal River last week where Mrs Rosemary Anderson, a local business woman, owner of Stonehaven-on-Vaal, and a strong driving force behind Tourism in the Vaal, was one of many individuals or groups who submitted presentations to the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry. She submitted on behalf of the Emfuleni Tourism Association to indicate how Tourism Operators on the Vaal River and other businesses in the Vaal have been negatively affected by the pollution. She also submitted on behalf of Metsi le Temo (using waste water for agricultural purposes) – the Emfuleni Sanitation Initiative.
IMPACT OF THE SEWERAGE POLLUTION IN THE VAAL
During all the other presentations, the negative impacts on human life and dignity – and the environment have been detailed. What we would like to do now, is indicate the impact on businesses in Emfuleni and the resultant loss of jobs – where according to our ELM Mayor, we now have 69% unemployment in the Vaal.
Approximately 10 years ago, Rand Water put a moratorium on all new developments on the Vaal River – or any area within 1000 meters from the Vaal River (which is their jurisdiction) – due to the lack of capacity to service any more sewerage intake. Following this, not long afterwards, ELM also enforced a moratorium on any new zonings with developments. However during this time, thousands of new RDP houses were built – without increasing sewerage infrastructure capacity.
It would be difficult to estimate how many major developments have been lost because of ELM infrastructure’s deficit and the resultant moratorium. It is estimated to be over 100 – but to name a few – Snowflake was going to build the biggest bakery in the Southern Hemisphere and provide over 1000 new jobs – we lost this; VESCO during this time has applied to build student accommodation with 25,000 beds – this has been declined, even though we have a serious shortage of student accommodation in the Vaal due to the popularity of our two Universities and colleges; a private hospital with 250 beds has had plans drawn up on a 5 hectare site – this has been declined; a retirement village with 1,200 units provided on 30 hectares has been declined; three hotels, and residential developments on 50 hectares with more than 1000 quality house.
The salient points here are that all of the above would have created short, medium and long term jobs. They would have also created by their nature – more economic local activity and spend in Emfuleni. And most relevantly, they would all have also handsomely contributed towards ELM’s income through electricity, water, rates and taxes – they would have benefitted ELM financially.
We understand the need for every South African to be able to own his or her home. This is understood and the human dignity and right of being able to do so is supported totally. We want everyone in the Vaal to have their own home and will do everything to support this.
However for the purpose of trying to explain the economic burden and demise of the Vaal – we bring to the Commissions attention that the only major developments that have happened in the last 10 years have been done by Human Settlements – where thousands of RDP houses have built which unfortunately has further burdened the ELM sewerage infrastructure since Human Settlements has not financially contributed proportionately to the increased sewerage burden that these additional thousands of houses have created. Added to this is that the majority of the people who reside in these new homes, now do not have jobs, so they are not able to pay for the water, electricity and services provided to them, even if they wanted to be compliant.
We would also like to mention something that has not been mentioned in any of the presentations, and that in excess of 50 mega litres of raw sewerage enters the Vaal River every day, due to informal settlements and some homes that are not even connected to the sewerage network. To put the figure of 50 mega litres in perspective, the whole capacity of the Rietspruit works is 36 mega litres – which services the majority of Vanderbijlpark. None of DWS’s presentations have taken the above into account or mentioned how they are going to address connecting these. We need to remember that capacity at the 3 waste water plants is only one of the causes of pollution. Even if you doubled the current capacity of all the waste water plants tomorrow – you would still have this 50 mega litres going into the Vaal River every day. The networks, missing networks and pump stations are currently the primary source of pollution.
We would also like to point out that even though the three waste water plants used to have capacity issues – as we speak, they do not have this, since the sewerage is not even getting to the three waste water plants, due to leaks in the pipe networks and faulty pump stations.
My name is Rosemary Anderson and I board member of the Golden Triangle Chanber of Commerce, the Chairperson of the Emfuleni Tourism Association and a Member of Metsi le Temo – the community and business initiative to use waste water for agricultural purposes and create thousands of jobs.
Part of the brief you sent out, was also to find out the impact that the sewerage pollution had on businesses that operated on the Vaal River. I am going to cover that.
The majority of businesses that operate on the Vaal River are generally in hospitality and resorts, the operating of commercial vessels or boat storage or boating clubs. This ranges from hotels like Riverside Sun (part of the Tsogo Sun Group), boutique hotels, river lodges, resorts, restaurant and pubs. As much as everyone in our area, is desperate to try to make the authorities finally react by getting lots of media coverage about the decade plus old pollution – all the negative media coverage we have managed to get, has even compounded the damage the actual pollution has caused to tourism on the Vaal River. It is a bit of a catch 22 – we need to do something to get those who can make a difference to do something, but at the same time, we are also damaging our own livelihoods and in most of our cases, our whole life’s savings in the form of the capital investment we have built up over decades – each time every bit of negative news materialises. It is currently not a happy space.
I operate a business on the banks of the Vaal River, so know firsthand how many cancellations we have had of weddings, conferences and corporate functions – since people do not want to be associated or spend money at a place that has a reputation of sewerage and pollution attached to it. Even though incidentally – the stretch of river where I am located is actually generally acceptable regarding the ecoli count, according to the Rand Water weekly report. However being on the Vaal – I carry the same reputational damage. Who wants to boast that they have a wedding planned at a place that they have just heard on the news has sewerage issues? Or have a product launch or client entertainment at such a place? This is obvious to me as to why we are in this fight for our very survival. But for the purpose of providing the Commission with accurate information, I sent an email out to all my colleagues who either operate hospitality venues or commercial boats on the Vaal River – to find out firsthand what their experience is in this regard. I was thoroughly depressed going through all the responses. For the purpose of confidentiality and their dignity I will just summarise. The majority of them say:- they are trying to sell their businesses but are not able to. Due to the drop in business, they have already retrenched but will need to do further cut backs, since their incomes are so vastly reduced; it is no longer a viable return on investment; whenever there is another Carte Blanche or such exposé, they end up having to give back deposits, since people cancel since they say it is a Health and Safety matter. Boating has obviously gone down, every aspect of operating a business on the banks of the Vaal River has been negatively affected.
One person summarised it by saying, having a venue on the banks of the Vaal River used to be their USP (unique selling point) but now it is her Achilles’ heel – it is her weakness that she has to combat.
On a personal level, I am still managing – however the amount of effort that I have to put in to retain the same type of income and be able to continue paying my work mates, is beyond exhausting. Today I have to work harder than I did when I first started this business in 1994. It is a dreadful burden to have to know that other people’s lives depend on you keeping your business financially healthy. In fact it invokes panic attacks.
Our Waste Water department (which is now called Metsi a Lakoa) used to be run really well when they had the appropriate budget for infrastructure and maintenance. It is long gone when they had both. I do believe we still have the ability within Metsi, if we were given the correct operating budget which is currently drastically short and the right people for the jobs. I heard how DWS has said we are now going to have two engineers join Metsi a Lekao). I welcome this, but I can imagine for the people working there, this must be quite annoying – when they often do not even have diesel for their bakkies to go and investigate sewerage spills and some times no bakkies either – their operational budget makes them doomed to failure. These problems have been brought to DWS, Rand Water and CogTA’s attention for many many years.
Right onto something more positive and innovative now. I am going to call upon my colleague Charl Claasen who is a professional engineer with vast experience in waste water plants. Charl is both a civil and environmental engineer. Charl is going to tell you what our Action Plan has been and is.
Government needs to invest R5 billion rand in Emfuleni. I use the word INVEST since this is what it will be. A good return on investment. This budget will also allow for the informal settlements who are not currently connected to the network and putting in 50 mega litres per day of raw sewerage into the Vaal – to now be connected to the sewerage system. Human Settlements must not be allowed to build any more houses unless they give ELM the appropriate allocation to service these houses through an increase in budget. These amounts have to be over and above the R5billion – since the R5 billion is just what we need to fix the problems that we currently have which will therefore allow us to have the moratorium lifted on development. Metsi le Temo must be put into operation everywhere possible, since it is the right thing to do from a to z – not only to create additional sewerage capacity but to create many agricultural jobs simultaneiously.
The Vaal has the highest concentration of engineers in SA. There is ample local engineering expertise in the Vaal to implement the upgrades and repairs. We request that all these major upgrades be awarded to companies in the Vaal and not given to companies outside the Vaal or overseas companies as was the case with Module 6, given to an Italian company. This will reduce the chances of labour and social unrest as per Module 6. Joint ventures to ensure it stays local. The Vaal residents and businesses have suffered for in excess of 10 years – this has to be payback for what they have gone through. The community wants and open and transparent selection process, with detailed specs put out, all tenders open and transparent – for public scrutiny, to try to halt the total public distrust there is out there.
The 5 billion investment will provide a significant return on investment, since the following developments on hold can then materialise:-
* The moratorium on building will be lifted. The many commercial developments on hold will then materialise.
* Investment will flow back into the area – will become truly the Southern Gateway to Gauteng.
* The Aerotropolis, Vaal River City, Gautrain and Agriparks can become a reality which will be a game changer for the region. Tens of thousands of jobs will be created plus the treated waste water will service the all the new Agriparks.
* River tourism and hospitality can re-emerge and grow after a significant, in some cases fatal knock.
* Thousands of new jobs will be created in agriculture with Metsi le Temo project and the AgriPark – the Vaal will truly become Gauteng’s bread basket.
* Media will be made aware of all of these positive developments – so the Vaal elevates its reputation to be “Proudly Vaal” once again! Success breeds success!
* Since residents will now have jobs, they will be able to pay for their municipal services delivery, which they are currently not able to and are currently very dissatisfied with local Government.
* The Municipality will then become a viable financially functioning entity – once again able to pay its bills and service residents’ needs as per our fine Constitution.
DWS, CogTA, Rand Water and ELM must not just say they currently do not have the R5 billion. They must also tell us where, where and when they are going to endeavour to get it. They must tell us they are going to do it – because the alternative is not an option.. It is not impossible – it is a worthwhile investment in an area that has so many projects on hold, that will show the R5 billion investment was worth it and that will create jobs and return the region to a thriving agricultural hug with a great looking river – as the cherry on top.
The alternative -is that a moratorium on development will remain, which will result in an even further downward economic and pollution spiral. This will indeed be a further contravention of the Vaal’s residents’ human rights, which have been already violated for over a decade.
Rosemary Cloete Anderson