Latest Updates and Interventions

Vaal River sewage crisis will get worse before it gets better


Colonel Andries Mahapa stands next to the one of the two Primary Settling Tanks successfully refurbished by SA Army engineers at the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant south of Johannesburg. Picture: SUPPLIED

Johannesburg - On October 24 last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the Vaal River sewage problem a national crisis and authorised the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to urgently intervene because the local Emfuleni municipality (ELM) had failed.

I led a team of specialists to the Vaal the very next day. We spoke with the ELM to determine the best approach to stabilise the situation and avert the looming humanitarian crisis.

In the meanwhile we deployed our troops consisting of sappers to secure these key point installations from vandalism and theft and our specialist architects, water care engineers, Geographical Information System specialists, artisans and scientists, to refurbish and maintain the water waste management systems, protecting the integrity of the Vaal River from raw human effluent being pumped straight into it – and to safeguard the health of the hundreds of thousands of people living on both banks of the river and beyond who depend on the water, literally for their survival.

Our arrival had immediate effects; we cut the vandalism and theft of pumping instruments and electrical equipment overnight. We immediately set up an E. coli scoreboard and monitor at the headquarters of our temporary base, recording the water pollution levels every day and began work at the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment plant, especially on the three primary settling tanks (PST). Each PST is approximately 7m deep, filled to overflowing with 3m of compacted sludge at the bottom – a situation that had existed since 2008.

We estimated at the time it would take R1.1-billion to fix the crisis, money that the Defence Force certainly doesn’t have. The plan would have involved outsourcing certain aspects of the project too because of the limited wastewater equipment within the SANDF, given our operational mandate. Although the engineers are among the army’s most highly skilled and ingenious soldiers doing everything from mine warfare to water purification – and even building military installations, we have never been expected to manage waste water on the kind of scale we were being asked to. We had limited equipment for that particular task, given the sheer scale, nothing else, but we were not deterred.

The first phase of our mission was achieved with great success, characterised by quick wins; the E. coli count dropped dramatically, we secured the installations and we successfully refurbished and recommissioned two of the three PSTs and unblocking 10km of sewer lines at Sebokeng’s Moshoeshoe Road.

We also reached out to the community in very meaningful and impactful ways; a family in Boitumelo was able to celebrate Christmas for the first time ever after we fixed the running sewers that had flowed through their house and their yard for an entire year. We built an improvised bridge across a polluted and dangerous spruit in Tshepiso, allowing the community safe passage and unhindered access, where before they put their health in harm’s way just getting to the shops.

The problem though was funding. The projected budget we drew up envisaged maintenance costs and capital expenditure. This was rightfully the preserve of the Department of Water and Sanitation and as such, this department became the funder department for the project after a steering committee of all the relevant stakeholders comprising DWS, Rand Water, the local municipalities and the other relevant government departments including the SANDF was set up in March and April this year.

In June we stopped all our refurbishment initiatives and our maintenance programmes out of respect of the DWS processes and continued with our mission which is the protection of the key point installations. Since then, there has been neither maintenance nor refurbishment and the e-coli levels into the Vaal River have spiralled upwards because the raw untreated effluent is being allowed straight into the river system’s various catchments.

Unfortunately, the situation will get worse before it gets better because there are very distinct processes that have to be followed in terms of procurement. The project will also require DWS to outsource certain functions to the Ekurhuleni Water Care Company (Erwat) as a confirmed Wastewater specialist to assist with technical skills in resolving the crisis and beyond the intervention period.

Throughout this crisis, the SANDF has learnt incredibly valuable lessons from this operation. We were given one of the biggest peacetime missions, also known as Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW), that the engineer corps in particular has ever been tasked with in its long and proud history – managing 100 mega litres of wastewater. We were up to that challenge, we believed that we could have resolved this within the year we allotted to it, and we believe that we could have used this as a benchmark to be rolled out to other struggling municipalities within our own borders and similar potential humanitarian crises elsewhere in Africa.

The SANDF has learned vitally important lessons in terms of intra-governmental department co-operation together with our troops, most of whom were drawn from the Reserve Force: 3 Field Engineer Regiment in Durban and 19 Field Regiment in Cape Town, as well as 44 Para Engineer Regiment and 35 Engineer Support Regiment, who  attained critical skills in the essential service of waste water management that will stand them in good stead not just militarily but on their return to the civilian world too.

We are very proud members of a highly professional and disciplined military that faithfully operates on the tenets of mission and mandate. Our mission was given a set time frame which is due to expire soon. When we demobilise, we will do so knowing that we did everything we could – but also with the realisation that we could have done far better, but we were constrained by both the system and funding.

Should our principals wish to extend the operation, we will comply because supporting the people of this country has always been the secondary function of the SANDF after protecting the sovereignty of this country and the safety of its citizens. We also thank our chief for affording us the opportunity to serve the people of South Africa.

* Colonel Andries Mokoena Mahapa is the Officer Commanding the South African Army’s 1 Construction Regiment and the Commander of the SANDF’s Vaal River intervention task force.


Article from

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.


September 2018

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.


October 2018

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.


February 2019

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.



April 2019

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.



May 2019

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.


Rosemary Anderson


WATCH | Wat is die impak van volgehoue rioolbesoedeling in Vaaldriehoek?Seg 1 - PRONTUIT

Published on May 06, 2019

WATCH | Wat staan inwoners van die Vaaldriehoek te doen? Seg 2 - PRONTUIT

Published on May 06, 2019

Vaal clean-up: Eyebrows raised over Erwat appointment


File picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA).


Earlier this month, Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti announced that he had appointed the East Rand Water Care Company (Erwat), an entity of the Ekurhuleni Metro, as the implementing agent for the initial R341m Vaal sewage clean up.

“As a wastewater specialist company, Erwat will ensure that all wastewater treatment infrastructure is resuscitated to an operational state and that pollution in the Vaal River is stopped,” Nkwinti said.

But water adviser, Professor Anthony Turton, was critical of the firm’s appointment.

“Erwat is a persistent and known polluter of the Hennops River. Therefore, to now appoint them to rectify the highly complex problem in the Vaal, at great cost to the taxpayer, does not represent good value for money.”

He wondered if Nkwinti understood the complexity of the Vaal river problem, where sewage infrastructure had collapsed.

“This includes more than 40 sewage pumping stations that have seized up with solid waste, flooding the chambers and rendering the pipelines useless. In all probability, the entire pipeline network will have to be replaced because it is unclear if such blockages can be cleared without highly specialised machinery not in the possession of the state.

“It also begs the question as to why the sums of money being spent on the SANDF and Erwat deployment, collectively approaching R1 billion, are not being channelled through the normal service procurement process into the private sector.”

Rosemary Anderson, a spokesperson for waste and sanitation for the business chamber in the Vaal, agreed.

“Erwat has received, for many years, negative mention for causing sewage pollution and spillages into water sources, emanating from their region. If it was felt we were in such crisis and we needed to get an outside entity because the level of expertise was not found in the Vaal, why did we not get the best company out there, due to our dire state? One with a near blemish-free reputation, unlike Erwat?”

Maureen Stewart, of Save the Vaal Environment, said: “At this stage, we have little knowledge of Erwat’s capabilities, but will be watching progress with great interest and their ability to meet the minister’s commitment of no more sewage pollution by March 2020.”

Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the DWS, said Erwat was a government entity specialising in wastewater management.

“Erwat was engaged in the Vaal intervention as they have capabilities that are needed in the Vaal clean up, ie, wastewater management equipment that is critical (equipment that is much too costly to hire), laboratory services that are also needed, etc.

“With the high cost of cleaning the Vaal River, DWS had to engage all available Gauteng government agencies that can assist with the clean-up campaign in addition to the SANDF.

“The inclusion of Erwat will assist in bringing down the R1.1 billion projected cost for the clean-up. Rand Water is also involved as programme and project managers to the upgrade of the Sedibeng Regional Sewer Scheme.”

Anderson said a DWS document further detailed that 51% of the initial contract would be undertaken by the construction unit of DWS, based in Potchefstroom, 19% will be reserved for strategic partnerships such as the Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority and 30% for local labour and procurement in the Vaal.

“Why are we getting an entity like DWS’s construction unit, which is not known for its expertise - to have 51% of the contract? Skills in the Vaal are superior to those of this construction unit.”

That pollution of the Vaal has continued under the DWS for the past 15 years and “deserves serious contemplation.

“The DWS owes the Vaal big time. It has caused tremendous harm to the environment, residents, business, tourism, employment levels and our reputation.

“The very least they could do is give the forthcoming contracts a major lion’s share to the unemployed and residents and entities within the Vaal so that the Vaal 100% benefits by the funds coming in to address the crisis.”

Saturday Star

Read | Rooting out corruption in infrastructure projects

Published on April 08, 2019

Rooting out corruption in infrastructure projects

In an effort to root out corruption within the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Minister Gugile Nkwinti has announced sweeping changes in the management of major infrastructure projects.


Nkwinti noted that poor management has been a problem within the department, but he is working hard to turn things around.

According to the minister, the ‘blind contracting’ of water and sanitation mega projects to service providers has cost the department between R10 and R15 billion over the past few years. The DWS is now working with law enforcement agencies to investigate corruption within the department and three senior managers have since resigned from their posts to avoid being investigated, he said.

Directive to the TCTA

In terms of Sections 74 and 103 (2) of the National Water Act, Nkwinti has issued a directive to the Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) to provide programme management services to the DWS on the following water projects:

  • De-Hoop Water Project
  • Mzimvubu Water Project
  • Loskop Water Project
  • Xhariep Bulk Water Supply
  • Clanwilliam Water Project

In his directive, Nkwinti said TCTA should utilise its capabilities and resources to increasing support DWS in its infrastructure mandate that will enable the effective delivery of water and sanitation services to the public.

“The directive shall be implemented in line with all applicable laws and the new implementation Model which promotes effective utilization of the Construction Unit in the Department of Water and Sanitation South Africa DWS_RSA implementation of the managed projects and socio-economic transformation in the execution of projects,” he said.

He instructed the TCTA to develop a business plan, stating that a service level agreement will be concluded by the end of April. Once concluded, a technical task team will be established with officials from DWS, TCTA, Water Service Authorities, relevant institutions impacted by the projects and as well as provincial COGTA officials to analyse a suitable model for implementation funding for each project.

Partnering with DBSA

Nkwinti issued another directive for the DWS to follow an applicable legislative framework in formalising a relationship with Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).

The DBSA will be entrusted to perform programme management services for the following projects:

  • Giyani Water Project
  • Nandoni Nsami Pipeline
  • Nwamitwa Dam
  • Tzaneen Dam
  • Polokwane (Ebenezer and Olifants)
  • Vaal Gamagara Project

These announcements by the minister follow on form his budget vote speech when he introduced his turn-around strategy to improve the optimal operations of DWS. The department faces enormous challenges of inadequate capacity for effective programme planning and co-ordination, necessary for ensuring effective project preparation, roll out and delivery to specifications, on time and within budget.

Article by:

Read | R341 million allocated to saving the Vaal

Published on April 08, 2019


R341 million allocated to saving the Vaal

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has committed R341 million to saving the Vaal River, in an effort that is expected to create 2 000 jobs and establish a new catchment management agency.


The DWS recently signed an Implementation Protocol with COGTA in Gauteng, Emfuleni Local Municipality, South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA) and the East Rand Water Care Company (ERWAT).

“In terms of the Implementation Protocol, my department appointed ERWAT, which is an entity of the Ekurhuleni Metro, as the implementing agent. As a wastewater specialist company, ERWAT will ensure that all wastewater treatment infrastructure is resuscitated to an operational state and that pollution in the Vaal River is stopped,” said Minister of Water and Sanitation Gugile Nkwinti.

Creating jobs

Nkwinti indicated that R341 million has been allocated for the project, which will facilitate the training of 250 youth and community members in plumbing, carpentry, bricklaying, paving and agriculture. The SANDF will also train 2000 youth and community members to guard 44 pump stations until the completion of the project in March 2020.

Infrastructure upgrades

Minister Nkwinti informed that Module 6 of the Sebokeng Wastewater Treatment Works – a regional bulk sanitation infrastructure that is under construction and projected to be completed by the end of May 2019 – is expected that 120 000 households in the southern part of Gauteng will benefit from Module 6.

Module 7 of the project, which is expected to start by July 2019, will also follow a new empowerment model, the minister explained. This means the DWS’s Construction Unit will have a 51% stake of the project, while 30% will go towards local community beneficiation, local procurement and local job creation. 19% of the project allocation will go towards strategic partners.

Vaal Catchment Management Agency

Nkwinti also announced the establishment of the Vaal Catchment Management Agency in a bid to protect water resources in the area.

The work of the agency will include river monitoring, reporting on pollution incidents and dealing with polluters. It is also expected to also raise awareness and educate citizens on protection of the water resources and environment, local planning with citizens as well as manage the processing of water use licenses.

“The Vaal River Catchment Management Agency will ensure that water is protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner”, he emphasised.

Article by:

WATCH | ENCA Vaal residents are living in their own waste

Published on April 07, 2019

Read | R341m set aside to prevent pollution in the Vaal River - Water dept

Published on April 06, 2019

Ntwaagae Seleka - News24

The polluted Vaal River. (Picture:
The Department of Water and Sanitation has set aside R341m for the resuscitation of all wastewater treatment infrastructure in the Vaal Triangle.The aim of the project is to prevent further pollution in the Vaal River.Water Affairs Minister Gugile Nkwinti announced on Friday that the East Rand Water Care Company (ERWAT), will ensure that all wastewater treatment infrastructure is resuscitated to an operational state and that pollution in the Vaal River is stopped.

Nkwinti told community members at Saul Tsotetsi Sports Centre in Sebokeng, that his department together with COGTA department in Gauteng, Emfuleni Local Municipality, South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA) and the ERWAT, signed an Implementation Protocol on March 29.

He indicated that the allocated money will be used to train 250 youth and community members on plumbing, carpentry, brick-laying, paving and agriculture.

“SANDF will also train 2000 youth and community members to guard 44 pump stations until the completion of the project, that is projected for March 2020,” he said.

READ: R240m cash injection to fix polluted Vaal River, but it still isn't enough

Nkwinti informed the community that 120 000 Households will benefit from Module 6 of the Sebokeng Wastewater Treatment Works, a regional bulk sanitation infrastructure, which is projected to be completed by the end of May 2019. Module 7 of the project is expected to start by July 2019.

The minister also announced the establishment of the Vaal Catchment Management Agency in a bid to protect water resources in the area.

"The work of the Agency will include river monitoring, reporting on pollution incidents and dealing with polluters. The Agency is expected to also raise awareness and educate citizens on protection of the water resources and environment, local planning with citizens as well as manage the processing of water use licenses.

“The Vaal River Catchment Management Agency will ensure that water is protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner," he said.

WATCH | Vaal water clean up

Published on April 04, 2019

Read | SAHRC and Minister of Defence to visit the Vaal

Published on April 03, 2019

Article by Rosemary Anderson


The Vaal Army is having a busy week – today, (Thursday the 3rd April) the SANDF will be receiving the South African Human Right’s Commission at the Sebokeng Waste Water Works – to show the Commissioners what has been done so far working towards the Rehabilitation of the Vaal River System. The SAHRC will also be visiting the Rietspruit Waste Water Works.

And then tomorrow (Friday the 4th April), the Minister of Defence will be visiting Sebokeng Waste Water Plant to see the commissioning of Primary Settling Tank (PST) 3 and the Minister will be shown how sludge is removed - by also viewing the commencement of the removal of the sludge from the last PST needing cleaning, namely PST 4.

So far the Vaal Army SANDF, has cleaned out 21 tons of hardened sludge – no small feat.

The benefit of the army’s work regarding the emptying and cleaning of the PST’s will only be seen once they are commissioned.  The treated waste water leaving Sebokeng waste water treatment works and entering the Rietspruit should then be of a much improved quality.  This water then entering the Rietspruit, will then hopefully also dilute polluted water in the Rietspruit that enters the spruit from all the settlements not connected to the main sewerage networks and spillages too.  This is not an ideal situation and first prize would be that all settlements were connected to the sewerage network.

Another good thing is that the SANDF are going to now man all 44 pump stations in the Vaal.  There has been no vandalism or thefts from any of the pump stations that the Vaal Army has secured over the past several months – so this success is going to be emulated at the rest of the pump stations.  This should be commissioned within the next few weeks.

The current problem however which puts a bit of a cloud over the above successes – is that the sewerage networks (2,600km of pipes transporting sewerage to the three waste water plants) are in the worst state they have ever been in, which is translating into sewerage being spilled at a record level all the way from Evaton down to the Vaal River.   The consequence of this is that there are major spillages in townships, suburbs, CBD’s, schools, clinics, council buildings, apartment blocks and roads – everywhere.  The larger ramifications of this is that this sewerage is not even getting to the waste water plants to be processed and treated and is eventually entering the tributaries and the Vaal River.

For some reason, when the SANDF were given the mandate to spearhead the Rehabilitation of the Vaal River System – the networks were not included in their mandate, only the waste water plans and the pump stations were included.  This is definitely a weakness in their mandate.  The networks are an integral part of the future success of their mandate.  Hopefully this will be reconsidered and amended.  The SANDF has strength in manpower – which is something that is really needed in unblocking and repairing networks.  It would definitely be of significant benefit to Metsi a Lekoa who has the onerous job of trying to facilitate servicing on average 60 leaks and blockages per day with their understaffed, under-resourced and under budgeted small team.  They work under very difficult conditions trying to attend to the many complains that come in daily.

What National, DWS and Treasury urgently needs to do, is free-up funds urgently so that the Vaal Army can continue with their mandate and that Metsi a Lekoa be funded as they need to be funded to provide adequate water and sanitation to the residents of the Vaal.

WATCH | NGO Save the Vaal interdicts govt for sewage spill

Published on April 02, 2019

Read | Latest update on SANDF Vaal River Rehabilitation Project

Published on March 22, 2019

Article by Rosemary Anderson


The SANDF has been tasked with the rehabilitation the Vaal River System by implementing the necessary remedial action required at the Waste Water Plants (first Sebokeng, then Rietspruit and then Leeukuil) as well as the 44 pump stations.  The SANDF have not been mandated for the networks  (sewerage pipe networks – that remains under ELM).


In the past weeks, the SANDF, under Colonel Mahapa,  has removed 21 tons of sludge within  the Primary Settling Tanks (PST’s) at Sebokeng waste water treatment plants which left them either non-operational or only partially operational.  Primary Settling Tanks are an important part of the waste water treatment process, ensuring that the quality of treated waste water leaving the plant and entering the Vaal River System – is acceptable.  At Sebokeng there are several PST’s – Module 3 (a) and (b), Modules 4 and 5 (Modules 1 and 2 were decommissioned and removed a number of years ago).  Colonel Mahapa has now instructed that Module 3 be commissioned as soon as the last blocked pipe has been opened up and then within 3 – 5 days, module 5 will be commissioned.  Module 4 will then be emptied, cleaned and the functionality restored as per Modules 3 and 5.


The SANDF’s progress has been hampered by funding not being provided timeously. However a MOU between the various Government and SOE’s has now been signed – which should hopefully free up funding and allow the SANDF to execute its mandate of the three wwtw and pump stations regarding the rehabilitation of the Vaal River System with no further delay.s


The good news above (which is under the mandate of the SANDF),  however needs to be read in conjunction with the rapid deterioration of the sewerage network within Emfuleni , where burst and leaking sewerage pipes are a growing daily occurrence in schools, townships, suburbs, homes, businesses, council offices and streets.  The networks are not under the mandate or budget allocation of the SANDF.

Word on the outcome of a strategy session between the various government, municipal and SEO stakeholders to access funding, will hopefully be forthcoming and the  plan presented to the residents to let them know there is light at the end of the tunnel of this growing deterioration of standard of health and safety of living in the Vaal.


The public are very disappointed in the lack of communication from the Communications Dept within Emfuleni and the responsible entities, regarding when leaks will be repaired.  If a time scale or just daily updates were provided - this would be the common decency basic that should be afforded to residents and would go some way to help appease the outrage in the communities of having to live with sewerage infecting their homes, schools, businesses and streets.


Metsi a Lekoa (the water and waste water arm of ELM) is mandated with keeping the waste water networks within Emfuleni in a safe and environmentally acceptable condition This entity is totally underfunded and under-equipped in every possible way – as has been the case for the past decade.   There needs to be national intervention to provide Metsi a lekoa  with the necessary funding, staffing, equipment and vehicles to execute their mandate.  It is impossible for them to do their jobs or attend to the over 60 complaints a day - with the status of this entity.  They are hamstrung and operating under very difficult conditions.  By province and national not funding and equipping this department – it is further adding the pollution and safety concerns of all residents.  There is no point in funding the SANDF and then also not adequately funding the entity who’s primary job is sanitation in ELM.


What ideally should be done to free up funds urgently to address the dramatic health and safety violations Vaal residents are having to live in at no fault of their own - would be to declare the Vaal a disaster area – which it currently is.

The politicians do not want to do this – since it has negative ramifications for them, however it would be the right thing to do for the residents, businesses and the environment.  We have formally made the authorities aware of the extent of this health and dreaded diseases risk to Vaal Residents.  Government will be totally responsible should there be an outbreak of diseased caused by the proliferation of untreated sewerage permeating the living conditions of communities extending all the way from Evaton all the way down to the Vaal river.


The time for  doing the right thing is now.  Let is not be said, “We told you so – and you are now legally responsible for the diseases and deaths caused by your lack of action and therefore negligence.  There was a way – you could have declared the Vaal a disaster area to free up funds urgently.  But you failed to do so for political reasons.”

WATCH | SANDF needs funding to continue its Vaal River sewage clean-up

Published on Feb 19, 2019

WATCH | Update on SAHRC's Inquiry into Vaal River contamination

Published on Feb 19, 2019

R240m cash injection to fix polluted Vaal River.

20 February 2019


The SA National Defence Force's (SANDF) intervention at the severely polluted Vaal River has received a whopping R240m cash injection, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) heard on Wednesday

However, there is still a shortfall.

The SANDF deployed soldiers, among them specialist engineers, to find solutions to the contamination of the Vaal River, after untreated waste made its way into the river causing blocked drains and flowing into local community members' homes and into streets.

The SAHRC initiated an inquiry in September, which ended on Wednesday.

At the inquiry on Wednesday, the Department of Water and Sanitation said much effort was being made to ensure that the SANDF had the support it needed.

Provincial head of the department, Sibusiso Mthembu, said R1.1bn was needed to fix 39 pump stations and three water treatment plants in the Vaal.

"We are now just waiting for the final approvals. They have already been discussed with Treasury, and once the papers are signed, the funds will immediately be made available," Mthembu said.

READ:  Vaal River pollution: 'There have been challenges to compliance', Sasol says

Over the weekend, the SANDF revealed to eNCA that it was unable to continue due to a lack of funding.

But after hearing Mthembu's submissions, the commander responsible for the Vaal mission, Colonel Andries Mahapa, said he was happy that the department was making resources available.

"This is good news. We are happy that there will be some money available for us and that will somehow speed up the process.. as we are now using the funds of the defence department which were not budgeted for this mission," said Mahapa.

Mahapa and Mthembu made a joint presentation before the SAHRC on Wednesday.

READ MORE: SANDF sends more engineers to sort out Vaal River contamination

Mahapa added that despite the financial constraints, there has been significant progress in the cleaning of the water treatment plants in the area.

"We have cleaned the Sebokeng water treatment facility's primary settling tank module 3. [It's] 100% clean, which has not been clean since 2008 or 2009.. and within two months, we will be done with module 5".

Mahapa said that the raw sewage which flowed through streets led to airborne diseases.

"But should the situation not be restored to normalcy, definitely people are going to die," Mahapa warned.


News 24

WATCH | R873m needed in the Vaal

Published on Feb 18, 2019

WATCH | Vaal river rescue operation in desperate need of funds

Published on Feb 18, 2019

Rosemary Dawn Anderson

Colonel Mahapa stands inside the PST (primary settling tank) Module 3 at the Sebokeng Waste Water Plant.

28 January 2019


Module 3 PST was not operational for some time due to it being filled with hardened sludge, this has been compromising the functioning of the whole of the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Works.  It was a significant job to remove all the sludge from this deep and awkwardly shaped reservoir.

This has finally been done, despite the SANDF not having the usual dedicated equipment that is needed to do this type of job. The SANDF is currently “Just Doing It” by using the equipment they have at their disposal.  Ideally what they need to tackle this job more speedily is:-


  •  A Vacuum Truck/Combo which can suck out the sludge and blow the blockages into the Sewer line.
  • A High Pressure Water Pipe is also needed to break the solid sludge into liquidified molecules so that it can be sucked out easily.


PST Module 3 should be operational either the 29th or 30th January 2019.  No small achievement.

21 January 2019 update by the SANDF on the Rehabilitation of the Vaal River System





I recognise the Protocol of our Democratic Government and its different spheres.

I recognise any member from National Government and the Gauteng Provincial Government present.

His/Her Excellency the Executive Mayors of Sedibeng District and Emfuleni Local Municipalities.

The Community of Vaal and particularly Emfuleni.

Organised Business.

And most importantly members of the Media.


Accept warm landward greetings from the Chief of the SA Army Lt Gen Lindile Yam who has directed the SA Army to schedule this first engagement with the people of Emfuleni, the District Municipality, Gauteng and all those who take interest in the well-being of South Africans geographically located in the Vaal around which the economic livelihood of the people in this area depends largely due to its tourism potential.


The Vaal is in many ways a defining feature of the area and its historic value to the revolutionary history of South Africa through the 1960 game changing march led by likes of Robert Sobukwe gives it such strategic significance that all should be concerned when the socio-economic fabric of its people is adversely affected.



 I have been correctly introduced as Major General Thembelani Thandekile Xundu, Chief Director Corporate Services in charge of the Army Corporate Communication.

Government exists as integral part and custodian of the state. It has a relatively fixed meaning, which has two dimensions in that it refers to both the institution and the process (Bvuma 2000:81).

The process dimension involves the making and implementation of public policies in institutions (Roberts 1971:89 in Bvuma 2001:81). Literature (Bvuma 2000) states that the form of Government depends on the relationship between itself and its citizens.

The Supremacy of the Constitution articulated in chapter 1(Section 2) of the country’s Constitution of 1996 makes the RSA a Constitutional Democracy. Such is a choice the South African people made.

The operative word for this introduction is the Supremacy of the Constitution which establishes or bring into being entities for a specific purpose which is articulated or given substance to, through legislation such as the Defence Act 2002 as amended ito the SANDF.

The SANDF by extension the Department of Defence exists on the strength of the Constitution of RSA of 1996.

Chapter 11 of the Constitution does not only prescribe the establishment of security services of the country but also pays attention in Section 200 to the establishment of a military capability for the country with a distinct regimental character. It calls for the establishment of the SANDF structured as a discipline military force.

It prescribes that the primary object of Defence force is to: defend and protect the Republic, its territorial integrity and its people in accordance with the Constitution and the principles of international law regulating the use of force. Such is the Constitutional Mandate of the DOD.

Section 227 of the Interim Constitution extends the Mandate of the SANDF to service in the Preservation of Life, Health and Property, Service in the Provision or Maintenance of Essential Services in Upholding Law and Order in Co-operation with South African Police Service and important for the day, service in support of any State Department for the purpose of Socio Economic uplifment.

Department of Defence policy documents such as the White Paper on Defence (1996:6) has in line with the above provision defined the concept of National Security differently from the traditional protection of the State used by the previous Colonial Apartheid regime. It defines National Security as an all-encompassing condition in which all South Africans live in Freedom Peace and Safety (and) participate fully in the process of Governance enjoy the Protection of Fundamental Rights, have access to resources and the basic necessities of life and inhabit an environment which is not detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

What we have heard and seen as the SA Army at Emfuleni is in direct contrast to the latter part of this definition (inhibit an environment which is not detrimental to their health and wellbeing).

The Defence Review 2015 has made a ground breaking strategic analysis of the constitutional imperatives imposed on the Defence Force and came with 4 goals and 13 tasks.

The goals are: Defend and Protect South Africa, Safeguard South Africa, Promote Peace and Security and lastly execute developmental and other ordered tasks.

Under goal 4, tasks 12 and 13 enjoin the SANDF to assist civil authority such as Emfuleni Local Municipality as ordered (Task 12) and contribute to the development of South Africa and its people (Task 13).


By implication the Defence Force is a unique instrument and an important lever of power at the disposal of the state to pursue its National Security and foreign policy priorities and is consequently at the core of South Africa’s National Security as defined in the White Paper on Defence of 1996.This stands to reason that the collateral value of conventional capabilities of the SANDF like bridges for mobility of the forces during mobile operations and construction capabilities (vertical and horizontal) can be used to assist communities in distress like in the Vaal.

As a creature of doctrine efforts and actions conducted by the military in a non –conventional setting are referred to as Military Operations Other Than War or Simple Operation Other Than War (JWP 106, 2006).

The JWP 132 (Planning at the Military Strategic Level) on the subject of strategic analysis provide that inputs or determinants of a military action are informed by inter alia, guidance from the National Strategic Authority or Level. The Defence Review 2015 has discussed extensively in Chapter 4. The national strategic level involves not only the C-I-C and President of the country but also the members of the cabinet, part of which the Ministers of Defence and Military Veterans and Finance reside. Page 4-6 for instance directs that: At the strategic level cabinet controls all the means and power bases of the strategic (political, diplomatic, information and military) to resolve insecurity and conflict. Each and every incident insecurity and conflict will be different, thus there is no single template for the resolution of such. The President and the Cabinet will exercise judgement and the most effective approach to tackling a situation. The pronouncement made by the Minister Of Finance should be seen in that context.



On 24 October 2018 Government made a public pronouncement in the National Assembly through the Minister of Finance, Mr Tito Mboweni during his Medium term Budget Statement that the Department of Defence will do Engineering work to resolve the crisis in the Vaal River system.

Consequently, on the 25th of October 2018 (the very following day), the SA Army Engineers were on the ground to do the following:

A conceptual and visual assessment of the problem.

This led to the understanding of the scope of work required to resolve the crisis.

A much more detailed technical assessment followed together with stakeholders followed by joint planning and costing.

The costed plan was jointly presented to National Treasury with other stakeholders (Department of Water and Sanitation DWS), Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA), Emfuleni Local Municipality, Sedibeng District Municipality, Randwater and Gauteng Provincial Government).

The total cost projected is about Rm873.

National Treasury is hard at work developing an appropriate financing model to fund the operation.

On 24 November 2018, the Military deployed an advance team which comprises of Engineers and Protection element.

The SA Army Composite Engineer Squadron comprises of a suite of expertise such as:


Civil Engineers


Water Care Specialists

Geo spatial environment

Different Tradesmen (Electricians, Welders, Plumbers, and Bricklayers.

Troops for protection of infrastructure.



The SA Army Engineers are currently working at 3 Waste Water Treatment Plants, namely:

Sebokeng with 4 Pump Stations.

Leeukuil with 2 Pump Stations.

Rietspruit with 36 Pump Stations.


At the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant they are working on 2 Primary Settling Tanks (PST) which comprises of Modules 3 and 5.

They are also cleaning the Primary Settling Tanks (PST) by removing the scum on top, empty the tank of the waste water and desludge the tank.

Ideally SA Army Engineers need a Vacuum Truck/Combo which can suck out the sludge and blow the blockages into the Sewer line.

A High Pressure Water Pipe is also needed to break the solid sludge into liquidified molecules so that it can be sucked out easily.

The DOD Engineers do not have the required equipment owing to persistent budget cuts since 1994.

They are currently using alternative equipment (excavator and water pumps) which are designed for water purification and not for sanitation or sewer system.

A Trailer (Sucktion Pump Trailer) can also be used as it can manoeuvre between built up areas due to its relative small size.

The SA Army Engineers can with professional comfort make use of any vertical and  horizontal construction equipment at their disposal.



The following are the achievements registered by the Army Engineers:

They are working simultaneously on Modules 3 & 5.

Module 3 is 95 % complete. They are currently at the bottom of the tank, however it needs a Combo to break the sludge bricks.

Module 5 is 80% complete. There is no dedicated Combo as the one in use is borrowed from the Department of Transport in a Roads and Transport sub entity.

Should the DOD have daily access to these machines, Module 3 & 5 would have been finished by now in a matter of 2 months.

The SA Army Engineers have from today as I speak (21 Jan 19) started to work on Module 4.



The SA Army Engineers have repaired Boitumelo Pump Station in conjunction with the municipality.

The SA Army Engineers have managed to stop the spillage of raw sewage out of the house that is adjacent to the Boitumelo Pump Station in which raw sewage has been spilling for the past 12 months. The family’s dignity has now been restored.

The SA Army Engineers are guarding the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant and Pump stations .There are currently 28 members on the ground guarding the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant.

The following Pump stations are also guarded by the Army Engineers:

4, 5, 8, 10, Everton Gardens, Emerald Hotel and Prison Pump station (which is guarded by a stick of 6 members).

The guards are rotated weekly.

There were no break-ins throughout December holidays due to the presence of the Military in the area, whereas in Rietspruit Waste Water Treatment Plant experienced break-ins.We are rolling out and extending the Military zones to this area from today. The break-ins will forthwith a phenomenon of the past

The SA Army Engineer also assisted the municipality and private company in replacing the gravity lines (these are pipes underground at showground in Vereeniging).

The SA Army Engineers assisted during December (Post Christmas) with floods at Sebokeng Zone 6 by channelling water away from residential areas by creating a buffer between oncoming floods and residential areas.



 The need for a partnership with a private company that has the machinery mentioned above is inevitable to secure the requisite progress.

If not, government should consider procuring the equipment for use by SA Army Engineers at a cost of only salaries and allowances.

This may reduce the costs related to outsourcing and ensure independence of supply should a need for SA Army Engineers be required elsewhere in the country.

Government should consider capacitating the Department of Defence Engineer capability for future use.

Government should consider a structured interdepartmental arrangement to make use of SA Army Engineers in the DOD and other departments to resolve engineer related problems elsewhere in the country.

The absence of the required equipment may stretch the duration of the operation well beyond 24 October 2019 threshold.

The SA Army is mandated by C SANDF to be in the Vaal River Operation until the 31 October 2019.



The DOD foresees an enduring situation in which it deploys its capabilities to  Waste Water Treatment Plants, Pump Stations and secure them as it works in some to prevent criminal elements from accessing and stealing, resolve problematic issues through the conduct of engineering work required by key service providers such as the DOD in the Plants and Pump Stations in partnership with other stakeholders, until the WWTPs and Pump Stations are in full use and thereafter hand over to Government through the Gauteng Provincial government, the District and Local Municipalities in a jointly prepared and deliberate Sustainability Strategy that involves the security and technical proficiency of the plants and Pump Stations.

In essence as the DOD and other service providers exit the municipality at local and district levels come in and resume their normal operations.

The Engineering work done will be certified by competent institutions such as Randwater, Department of Water and Sanitation, Cooperative Governance and Traditional (COGTA) and Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA).



The success of the Vaal Operation in the opinion of the SA Army depends on 3 Critical Success Factors:

The certainty on the funding of the operation in line with the pronouncement made by Government through the Minister of Finance Mr Tito Mboweni on 24 October 2018

Timeous decision by Government to either procure the machinery required by the SA Army Engineers such as the Vacuum Truck/ Combo and Trailer to secure the services of a reputable private Company to partner with the Department of Defence and provide the much needed machinery.

I am not referring to a “Front Company” that does not have the machinery but only secure a contract only to outsource the work to another Company which may prove costly.

Support and cooperation by all stakeholders.

We hope to interface with the community in the Vaal to an extent that the youth especially from disadvantaged communities and indeed all interested make use of the opportunities to join the SANDF through the MSDS system which will open soon. The young and fit youths from the Vaal may deem it fit to join the Engineering Corps and ensure that the problem at hand never befall their communities again.


The SA Army, SANDF and the DOD is at the disposal of the people of South Africa through government to make a positive difference. But it needs appropriate funding.


I thank you

Maj Gen Tembelani Tandekile Xundu


WATCH | First update for the New Year 2019, Colonel Mahapa

Published on Jan 10, 2019

WATCH | Update on Emerald Pump Station, Colonel Mahapa

Published on Jan 10, 2019

WATCH | SANDF deployed to Vaal River Rehabilitation Project

Published on Dec 19, 2018

LISTEN | IFM Radio interview with Colonel Mahapa

Published on Dec 12, 2018

WATCH | Module 3 Sebokeng WWTW will be operational by 15 December 2018

Published on Dec 09, 2018

WATCH | Update from Colonel Mahapa on work completed from 28 November to 04 December 2018

Published on Dec 04, 2018

WATCH | Colonel Mahapa, sequence of priorities of the Vaal Army

Published on Dec 04, 2018

WATCH | Colonel Mahapa, action that needs to be taken on the mouth of the Rietspruit

Published on Dec 04, 2018

WATCH | Soldiers try to alleviate the flow of raw sewage into the Vaal river

Published on Dec 1, 2018

WATCH | Vaal Army already making inroads, after just Day 2!

Published on Nov 26, 2018