Save the Vaal concerned by lack of SANDF budget to fix water system

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Non-profit organisation Save the Vaal Environment says it is shocked to learn about the failure to release funding to resolve the Vaal sewage pollution crisis.

The organisation made the comments on 21 January following a media briefing by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) over the weekend. The SANDF has been hard at work attempting to fix the Vaal river’s infrastructure and safeguard it against vandals and looters.

Save the Vaal said the SANDF has made significant progress but cannot continue its work in rebuilding the collapsed waste water system until Government funds are released.

Since November 2018, the army has made progress in cleaning up the dysfunctional Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant and a few of the other sources of sewage pollution. The army made presentations to Emfuleni, the Department of Co-operative Development and the Department of Water and Sanitation. National Treasury is apparently working out a funding model.

The army is unable to continue until its budgeted funds of R873 million is released. These funds will be used to purchase or hire specialised equipment which is not available within the SANDF.

Major General Xundu of the SANDF appealed to the private sector to provide funding or equipment so that the army can complete its work at Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant — a major source of ongoing sewage pollution in the Vaal River, Save the Vaal noted. It was also suggested that engineering expertise would be welcomed, perhaps as part of a corporate’s social responsibility programme.

“This latest development could have been avoided. Emfuleni should have been declared a disaster area as far back as June last year. The ongoing raw sewage pollution in the streets of Emfuleni and in the Vaal River is an infringement of human rights and contravenes The National Water Act and environmental legislation. It is also of the scale of a national disaster and has impacted on communities along the banks of the Vaal River from Vereeniging to Parys and beyond”, said Maureen Stewart, spokesperson for Save the Vaal.

Since assuming partial administration of Emfuleni Local Council in June 2018, the Gauteng Premier and the Gauteng Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) team and Department of Water and Sanitation have done little to alleviate the situation in Emfuleni, especially in terms of repairs to the sewage system. This, despite Save the Vaal’s 13 February 2018 court order against the Emfuleni Council to stop pollution of the Vaal River and to come up with a funded plan to solve current emergencies and prevent the another crisis in the future.

Save the Vaal said it had good reason to return to the court, but gave Gauteng Province and the Department of Water and Sanitation ample time to effect the necessary repairs to bring the crisis to an end.

“We postponed our court action based on promises made by Gauteng COGTA at a meeting with senior officials in July when Save highlighted the emergency repairs required. We were encouraged by this team’s commitment to deal with these repairs swiftly and to implement short, medium and long term plans to deal with the problems. Therefore, we postponed our proposed court action. However, little or nothing happened until the arrival of the SANDF and no feedback followed from COGTA while the raw sewage pollution continued”, said Stewart.

Again, Save instructed its legal team to return to court, when the Minister of Finance made the welcomed announcement that the SANDF were to be deployed.

Save the Vaal’s legal team is finalising court papers.