Emfuleni is a human rights disaster
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) called on the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to order an intervention and financial rescue plan for Emfuleni Local Municipality.
The Commission is holding hearings this week into whether the pollution of the Vaal River violates human rights.
OUTA has made a written and verbal submission to the Commission on the collapse of Emfuleni’s finances and service delivery, particularly the collapse of the sewerage services which has resulted in the pollution of both Emfuleni and surrounding rivers including the Vaal.
“Emfuleni has effectively collapsed. OUTA wants the Commission to order the Gauteng government to intervene in Emfuleni, in terms of its constitutional obligations,” says Michael Holenstein, OUTA’s Manager for Local Governance, who is making the submission.
“We want the Commission to order the province to implement a financial rescue plan and a turn-around strategy package for Emfuleni and we want the community and civil society to be involved in those processes,” says Holenstein.
“The collapse of the municipality and the failure by provincial and national government to intervene leaves the Emfuleni residents facing sewage spills, electricity and water cuts with no recourse. We need the Commission to order an intervention.”
OUTA’s submission outlines the organisation’s attempts to engage with Emfuleni management, the provincial and national departments of Cooperative Governance and Gauteng Premier David Makhura, with no response from any of them.
“Emfuleni, the former industrial heartland of Gauteng which created employment and wealth for the communities of Sebokeng, Vanderbijlpark, Vereeniging and Sharpeville, has now become a cesspit. Raw sewage flows into the Vaal River, Kliprivier and Rietspruit due to the wastewater treatment plants that have fallen into disrepair. The pump-stations can no longer pump the effluent to the plants due to cable theft, vandalism and irreparable electric motors, causing them to overflow,” says OUTA’s submission to the Commission, explaining that this is contaminating the Vaal River.
“Emfuleni is in financial crisis, a situation which has been allowed to continue for years, and this has been exacerbated by entrenched maladministration and corruption in this municipality. These problems are at the root of the collapse of the Emfuleni sewerage system.”
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 noncompliance notices have been issued. OUTA believes that the last resort must be sought and criminal enforcement action to rectify these non-compliances is the only way to ensure accountability. A precedent should now be set for all municipalities around the country to ensure that our and future generations’ basic rights are protected,” says OUTA’s submission.
The national Department of Water and Sanitation 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.
OUTA's submission to the SAHRC is here.
Please find SAHRC annexures here.