Sunday, 14 October 2018

Yes It Is a Crisis Mr Moiloa

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On Friday October 12 the Gauteng MEC for Human Settlements and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Uhuru Moiloa assured viewers of Nuusdag Perspektief (DSTV Channel 195) that the current situation with respect to the Vaal River sewage pollution was “not a crisis”. 

Mr Moiloa then confined his remarks to the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) and informed viewers that the Department of Water and Sanitation had granted R35m for Module 6 to be completed by the financial year end 2018/2019 and that work on Module 7 would start on April 1 2019.

Mr Moiloa omitted to mention the fact that the entire Sebokeng WWTW was shut down due to community labour unrest for over 3 months, earlier this year, seriously damaging the existing modules. Although work has started on recommissioning Modules 3 -5 (Modules 1 and 2 were decommissioned years ago) up to 100 million litres of untreated sewage continues to flow into the Rietspruit, a tributary of the Vaal River, daily as these modules needed extensive work to get them operational again.

The MEC made a vague reference to the fact that the “technical committees are all in place” and that “all that is needed is for all stakeholders to attend Sedibeng Political Committee meetings which I will be convening “– a reference to the ongoing political unrest in Sebokeng which shut down the Sebokeng WWTW in the first place, and which may well continue.

Mr Moiloa clearly has his head in the silt if he believes that the completion of Module 6 will alleviate the crisis.

The sewage system in Emfuleni Local Municipality (ELM) consists of the following:

  • Three Waste Water Treatment Plants: Rietspruit, Sebokeng and Leeuwkuil
  • 44 electrically driven pump stations which are necessary to pump sewage from towns to the WWTWs.
  • Around 3000 km of sewage pipes which serve part or all of the communities of Boiphatong, Bophelong, Evaton, Sebokeng, Sharpeville, Vanderbijlpark and Vereeniging. 

Of the three WWTWs, only Leeuwkuil is fully available but is operating at 30% capacity because the pump stations are not pumping sewage to the plant.

Rietspruit has two different processes Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) which comprises 66% of the works, and a biofilter system to process the balance. The BNR has been out of commission for 18 months while only about half of the biofilters are operational.

Sebokeng as mentioned above is allegedly operating at 30% of capacity but staff are struggling to even achieve that due to lack of funds.  

In total the WWTWs are only processing approximately 30% of design capacity and the balance is flowing into the river system.  

Of the 44 pump stations only about 40% are operational. Some are more than 30 years old. Electrical equipment has been damaged or stolen and many pumps and motors need overhaul or replacing. Each pump station has a sump from which the sewage is pumped and most have an “emergency” dam in the event of there being no electricity or other failure of the pump station. The so-called emergency dams when overflowing run through the storm water drains until they reach the Vaal River.

As innumerable media reports have shown, a vast number of leaks in sewage pipes are bubbling up to the surface in houses, streets, graveyards, playgrounds and schools throughout Emfuleni as the pipes carrying the sewage overflow because they are blocked or damaged and are in dire need of  maintenance or repair work.

The WWTWs and the pump stations are subject to constant theft and vandalism. Only last week a security guard was killed at Rietspruit WWTW by cable thieves.

Many formal and informal houses have been built to the south of Joburg that are not connected to any sewage system at all.  The outflow of up to 50 million litres per day of sewage  reaches the Rietspruit and subsequently the Vaal River.

As if all this were not enough, Joburg City Council has a contract with Emfuleni to process sewage from the South of Johannesburg which cannot be processed by the Joburg South sewage plant. The contract is worth millions a month to Emfuleni but the money does not go back into maintenance and operation of the system.

On Friday October 12 Mr Moiloa made a presentation to stakeholders in Vereeniging regarding COGTA’s ambitious housing plans for the Sedibeng region. Some 3000 serviced stands and some 5000 houses are targeted to be completed for the 2018/2019 financial year. The question of the provision of water and sewage threatens to bring the mega developments projected, to a standstill.  Some contractors are disputing the tender requirements which stipulate that they should provide and pay for the link from the houses to the bulk sewage and water systems. Water Use Licences have not been obtained in some instances. One asks how COGTA can press ahead with vast new developments when the existing sewage infrastructure is in collapse.

Speaking later in the same Nuusdag programme, Dr Anthony Turton a top SA water expert expressed the opinion that “Government doesn’t have enough money to fix the problem.”  This is simply not true. Government – or lack of it – created the problem. Mr Moiloa in his Budget speech allocated R569 million to human settlements in Sedibeng for the 2018/2019 year and admitted that in the past his department had “persistently” underspent its budget. National Department of Water and Sanitation in its Budget Speech allocated  R3.5 billion under the Water Services Infrastructure Grant and Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant to municipalities that are in distress and don’t have the necessary resources and capacity to implement projects on their own. 

The ANC has lost its 50% majority in key metros in Gauteng and has performed dismally in others, Emfuleni with its R850m unauthorised expenditure scandal and effective judicial management, being a major case in point. According to its own mayor, Emfuleni has 69% unemployment.

The website MunicipalIQ states that service delivery protests have reached an all-time high in 2018.

For Gauteng Province not to fix the problem or at the very least put substantial funds behind it would be political suicide especially in the run-up to the 2019 elections.  

Viccy Baker