Hammanskraal residents have to go out and find water. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)
A report by public protector Kholeka Gcaleka has found that Hammanskraal residents are not receiving water that is suitable for human consumption because of the dysfunctional state of the Rooiwal wastewater treatment works.
Rooiwal has been linked to the outbreak of cholera in Hammanskraal, which killed about 30 people in the large semi-rural area earlier this year. But an independent analysis by the Water Research Commission did not find any presence of a cholera strain from water sources used for domestic purposes.
Rooiwal lacks adequate and optimum functional capacity in respect of its original design to treat the inflow of wastewater, Gcaleka’s report found. As a result, “it has a problem of cleaning organic and solid waste” as well as other water pollutants it receives from its increased catchment areas, such as households and factories.
According to the City of Tshwane metropolitan municipality, the amount of water coming into the Rooiwal plant to be treated is about 130 million litres a day and the plant experiences an 18% overload. It was designed to treat only 110 million litres a day.
“As a result of this hydraulic overload and recurring mechanical breakdowns of machinery as indicated in the evidence, the final treated wastewater discharged from the Rooiwal plant into the Apies River does not comply with the quality standards set, which is a serious non-compliance issue.”
Poor raw water quality
Ultimately, wastewater from Rooiwal pollutes the Apies River and Leeuwkraal Dam, which is a source of drinking water to Hammanskraal and surrounding areas, the report said.
“The Temba Water Treatment Works (TWTW) is not mechanically designed to treat raw sewage and sludge, since it is not a wastewater plant, but a water purification plant, the report said.
As a result, the city has noted from its periodic water tests quality failures of the following parameters from the Temba purification plant: ammonia, phosphate, nitrites-nitrate and colour, taste and odour.
These indicated parameters are “as a result of the poor raw water quality at the Leeuwkraal Dam, resultant from the effluent discharged from the Rooiwal plant, which the City of Tshwane, has unduly delayed and/or failed to address over the years”.
This delay by the city “exposes a health risk” to the people of Hammanskraal and remains incompatible with obligations imposed on the city by sections of the Constitution.
The conduct of the city is also “at variance” with the obligations imposed on the municipality by sections of the Local Government Municipal Systems Act and is further irreconcilable with the provisions of sections of the National Water Act, and of the Water Services Act.
Poor intergovernmental relations
The city is the authority with direct jurisdiction on water related services in Hammanskraal but the poor quality of water is a reflection of poor intergovernmental relations on all affected spheres of government.
“For this reason, this matter should be treated as an emergency, which requires the buy-in of other affected organs of state and mutual recognition of the pressing need to address water problems in the area.”
This calls for “proper co-operation and the necessary support” to the city by other spheres of government, such as the water and sanitation department, the cooperative governance and traditional affairs department, the human settlements department and the treasury “to find long-term and lasting solutions to the water challenges in Hammanskraal”, Gcaleka said.
The city’s municipal manager must within 60 calendar days, develop an implementation plan setting out the measures, including prioritisation of capital funding within its available resources, to be undertaken to upgrade and refurbish Rooiwal to address ongoing water quality failures at the Temba water treatment works.
Tshwane mayor Cilliers Brink has been given 60 days to table a copy of the report, consider the implementation plan developed by the municipal manager and set out measures to be taken to address deficiencies and shortcomings at the Rooiwal plant.
This includes “taking appropriate steps or measures as he may deem necessary to work collaboratively with the City of Tshwane in addressing the water challenges in Hammanskraal to eradicate the situation that contributes to the poor quality of water at the TWTW.”
The water and sanitation minister must within 60 calendar days, “take measures as he may deem necessary to work collaboratively with the City of Tshwane in addressing the water challenges in Hammanskraal in order to eradicate the situation that contributes to the poor quality of water at TWTW, as highlighted in this report, in line with the principles of cooperative governance” envisaged in the Constitution.
‘Stain on the conscience of the city’
In a statement on Wednesday, Brink welcomed the public protector’s report and committed to the remedial actions that have been ordered.
“As I have said at the outset of my term of office, the dysfunctionality of Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant is a stain on the conscience of the city, including various administrations,” he said.
Rooiwal is hydraulically and organically overloaded, so it pollutes the Apies River and the downstream water supply. “If the plant had been upgraded in the first decade of this century, as the city’s master plan recommended in 2004, then enormous expense and suffering might have been avoided,” he said.
“While the city cannot change what happened in the past, we can learn from it and take responsibility for redressing the problem. The remedial actions ordered by the public protector accords with what the city has already undertaken in partnership with the department of water and sanitation.”
That partnership agreement is being monitored by the mayoral committee and a full report in compliance with the public protector’s remedial actions will be tabled at the municipal council before the end of this month.
The city has allocated R450 million towards upgrading Rooiwal over a three-year period. Priority will be given to finalise phase one upgrades and to initiate phase two upgrades.
“Our partnership with the [water and sanitation department] will be essential to our success, as will the continued funding of capital projects by the national government.
“As previously communicated, the Development Bank of South Africa will act as an independent implementing agent and on our part as the city, we maintain that no companies implicated in corruption or in state capture are awarded any tenders.”
The Mail & Guardianreported in September that President Cyril Ramaphosa has given the Special Investigating Unit the green light to investigate allegations of maladministration and corruption at the city and its refurbishment project at Rooiwal, valued at just over R290 million.