Charge and jail municipal and national officials for Vaal pollution

SAHRC report shows the abject failure of governance which allows massive pollution

17/02/2021 11:47:15

Charge and jail municipal and national officials for Vaal pollution 

“OUTA maintains that the apathetic attitude and failure of the Department of Water and Sanitation towards enforcing compliance and criminal sanctions on municipalities for sewage pollution is criminal, a human rights violation and one of the biggest threats to water security in South Africa,” says Julius Kleynhans, Executive Manager for Public Governance at OUTA.

“We will only see proper change when the first municipal manager sits in jail for sewage pollution. Municipalities have been receiving get-out-of-jail free cards for polluting water for far too long. South Africa is a water-scarce country and we cannot afford to mess around with this critical resource, it must be protected at all costs,” says Kleynhans.

In March 2017, OUTA laid a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) regarding the Department of Water and Sanitation’s failure to protect South Africa’s water resources. In September and November 2018, OUTA made two submissions to the SAHRC inquiry regarding the sewage pollution in the Vaal.

Today, the SAHRC released a damning report on its inquiry, putting various respondents on terms to provide plans within the next 60 days on how they will address its recommendations and requests.

These included the SAHRC calling on the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to collaborate with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries’ Green Scorpions to investigate offences on water and sanitation, as they are likely to relate environmental damage.

“We are of the view that negligence can be proven and that criminal prosecution of those who failed to address the pollution be the order of the day,” says Kleynhans.

The SAHRC report also said that public servants, municipal administrators and staff who failed to comply with their obligations should be disciplined or dismissed, and money lost to unauthorised, fruitless and wasteful, or irregular expenditure must be recouped from individuals.

OUTA provided data on the contamination of rivers as a result of untreated sewage from Rietspruit and Sebokeng wastewater treatment works in Emfuleni, with water downstream of both, particularly Sebokeng, showing pollution.

“The decay is clear. The damage has been done. Two directives and nine non-compliance notices have been issued by DWS but that’s where it stopped. If these offenders were civilians they would probably have almost finished serving their jail term by now. A precedent should now be set for all municipalities around the country to ensure that our and future generations’ basic rights are protected by holding to account those who failed to comply,” says Kleynhans.

The DWS has spent more than R3 billion on wastewater treatment schemes for the Emfuleni region since 2011/12, but the wastewater treatment plants are still failing.


More information

A soundclip with comment from Julius Kleynhans is here.

OUTA’s complaint and submissions to the SAHRC are here.

The SAHRC report is here.


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