Praise for Sappers deployed to “fix” Vaal pollution not justified


The praise heaped on the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), in particular the Engineer Formation of the SA Army, by outgoing Chief General Solly Shoke in the latest Department of Defence (DoD) annual report, appears somewhat misguided.

In his introduction to the publication Shoke, who ends his term of duty as South Africa’s top soldier on 21 May, writes (in part): “We continued to provide, repair and safeguard infrastructure in order to maintain essential services to both provincial and local governments; clean up sewage outflows of the Vaal River, unblocked and cleaned inlet lines, supported communities with water and construction of bridges”. This is seen as part of the ongoing SANDF tasking Operation Prosper to provide assistance to government and provincial government departments, local authorities and government agencies and entities.

The Vaal River sewage work follows Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in 2018 telling the National Assembly the SANDF was going to be roped in to help in the pollution clean-up and repair of sewage treatment infrastructure including pump stations. Soldiers were also to be deployed to guard infrastructure to prevent theft and vandalism. The Sappers tasking was later withdrawn with the military engineer corps replaced by the East Rand Water Company (ERWAT).

That has also not been successful and is now acknowledged by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). It will, a statement has it, “expedite a strategic intervention to significantly minimise the impact of raw sewerage (sic) seeping into the Vaal River and its tributaries in the southern Gauteng region”.

Among the “challenges” facing the former defence and military veterans minister in her current guise as a national water resource protector, among others, are securing and safeguarding of water services infrastructure, repairing bulk water and reticulation networks to eliminate spillages and refurbish wastewater treatment works, repair reservoirs, pump stations and rising mains.

This work will, according to Deputy President David Mabuza, be part of a R7.6 billion “multi-pronged” approach to the Vaal sewage pollution problem. Rand Water will be responsible for operations and maintenance; infrastructure upgrade is a DWS responsibility and sustainability of water and sanitation services will be done through restructuring the local municipal entity (Emfuleni).