Vaal River clean-up now a multi-partner operation including the SANDF


The Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation has allocated R240 million to deal with the Vaal River pollution problem and to pay the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) for its efforts at protecting and fixing infrastructure.

Prevention pollution of the Vaal River has escalated to the level where four provinces and seven other government institutions and agencies, including the national defence force, will be part of future efforts to ensure potable water continues to come from the entire Val River System.

The SA National Defence Force (SANDF), in the form of its SA Army Engineer formation, has been on site for the major part of this year repairing broken and vandalised infrastructure but has now withdrawn. The decision to deploy soldiers, albeit ones with engineering training, was announced in Parliament last year by Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni.

SAnews has it that provinces are working in conjunction with one another to “implement interventions aimed at stopping pollution into the Vaal River Dam System (sic)”. The government news agency was quoting Deputy President David Mabuza who was reposing to questions posed by National Council of Provinces (NCOP) members.

“Given that the Vaal River system cuts through and benefits four provinces, it has been agreed a collaborative inter-governmental approach is required to holistically respond to pollution challenges across the entire Vaal River system in South Africa.

“In this regard, the provinces of Gauteng, Free State, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape will be required to work together to implement co-ordinated interventions that will drastically reduce the pollution of the Vaal River system.

“Within a short while, we will be convening a meeting with Premiers of affected provinces to ensure we agree on implementation of an integrated inter-governmental plan that will respond sustainably to the ongoing challenge of the Vaal River system pollution,” he is reported as saying by SAnews.

The Deputy President indicated progress on cleaning up the river had been made but “more urgent work needs to be done to contain the Vaal River System pollution”. Among interventions he specified upgrading of ageing bulk sewerage and reticulation infrastructure adding indications were R1.1 billion would be needed to put an end to Vaal River pollution.

He said the national Department of Water and Sanitation, working with Gauteng COGTA, the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency, SANDF, Ekurhuleni Water Care Company (ERWAT) Emfuleni Local Municipality and Rand Water have developed an intervention plan to stop pollution into the Vaal River.

The plan includes repairing 44 pump stations, three waste water treatment plants as well as repair and replacement of gravity raising mains, leak detection and “addressing deficiencies in the network system”.

Mabuza said the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation has reprioritised an amount of R240 million of its Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant budget towards the mitigation of the Vaal River pollution and to pay the SANDF.

He said the Gauteng Provincial COGTA Department as well as the Emfuleni Local Municipality have also reprioritised their budgets and contributed R20 million and R90 million, respectively.

The Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation has further requested funding from the National Treasury for the shortfall of R750 million.

“To fast track the Human Settlement Development Programme and contribute towards economic development in the Emfuleni Local Municipality, the capacity of the waste water treatment plants in the area should be augmented. It is estimated that the cost of this project will require R6 billion and a proposal has been submitted to National Treasury to fund this programme.

“As the Presidency, we will continue to work closely with the other relevant stakeholders to ensure that we resolve sewer spillage challenges and restore the integrity of the Vaal River System.”

Since October last year, South African Army engineers have been upgrading 44 critical pump stations, refurbishing three treatment works and cleaning primary settling tanks (PSTs). So far, the SANDF has fixed two primary treatment tanks.

As the SANDF has not been able to fix all the broken pump stations, the Department of Water and Sanitation in August called in ERWAT to provide extra capacity. Erwat is expected to work with the SANDF to improve water quality in the Vaal River system.

A lack of funds has held the SANDF back from making further progress on the Vaal River project. “The SANDF couldn’t go any further because they were hampered because of lack of funds. The lack of funds from the government has been at the core of everything going wrong at the Vaal River and things are worse than they have been,” said Maureen Stewart, Vice-chairperson of the Save The Vaal Environment organisation.

In September, Mabuza visited the Vaal Rehabilitation Project and expressed disappointment at the progress made. The Army has used up the R350 million allocated to repair and refurbish water infrastructure, with Mabuza assuring that more money would be released for the project.