Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu says pending a decision from Cabinet, the department will invoke a clause of the Water Services Act in order to intervene and resolve the pollution of the Vaal River system.
Sisulu said this when she tabled the Water and Sanitation budget vote to a mini plenary of the National Assembly on Tuesday.
The Minister and the department have spent a great deal of time attempting to solve the problem. The Vaal community has also been of help, she said.
“But by 17 February 2021 the Human Rights Commission had issued a report on its own investigation and instructed ourselves to intervene in a decisive manner and take overall responsibility to restore the rights and dignity of the people of Emfuleni.
“We have since been in discussions and received the concurrence of the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), the Premier of Gauteng, and the support of the Deputy President to intervene in terms of section 63(2) of the Water Services Act, 1997. We are, all three spheres of government, in agreement that this should be done and we have already put in place steps to implement this, pending [a] Cabinet agreement,” she said.
The Vaal River system spans three provinces and two countries.
She said the Vaal crisis can be grouped into three main areas – infrastructure, governance and institutional capacity and finance.
The problem will not be solved with infrastructure capacity only.
“There are additional factors, such as other provinces contributing to the crisis, resulting in the continued state of pollution of the Vaal River. Because of its geographic position and flat topography, the Vaal has become a collection point from various sewer points and putting excessive strain on operation and maintenance of pumps at stations.
“Ideally sewer treatment is a municipal service that requires costs recovery as a minimum. However, the high unemployment and dwindling revenue collection in the Vaal area is making it difficult for the Emfuleni municipality to recover any costs or generate an income to cover operation and maintenance, let alone expansion of the treatment plants,” said the Minister.
Refurbishing waste water systems
Sisulu said the responsibility of the Emfuleni municipality as a water service authority will be taken over by national government. Rand Water has been appointed as the implementing agent to take full responsibility of operations and maintenance of the municipality’s water and sanitation infrastructure.
“Coupled with this is the refurbishment of the waste water systems. The necessary resources have been secured and to this end an amount of R1.1 billion [over the next three years] has been set aside for refurbishment of the waste water treatment plants.
“In addition a further amount of R700 million over the [next three years] has been set aside to add more capacity on the sewer network. This is a matter that we have been dealing with together with the community of the Vaal.
“It has taken up a great deal of our time and we are glad we are at this point.
“In the coming weeks, the department would have finalised the appointment of contractors for them to immediately be on the ground to urgently address the dire situation. We have already started putting out requests and advertising for engineers – only South African engineers,” she said.