South Africa: Tshwane Officials in Water Debacle to Face the Music

11 September 2019

The Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation has welcomed plans by the City of Tshwane to discipline officials who cancelled a chlorine contract without contingency measures to clean water at the Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment Plant.

The cancellation of the contract led to the release of untreated water into the Apies River, impacting the quality of water received by residents of Hammanskraal in Tshwane.

The committee said the cancellation of the chlorine contract without a contingency plan was reckless and negligent, and placed the health of Tshwane people, especially those in Hammanskraal, at high risk.

"Despite its vexation with the matter, the committee welcomes the assurance that the chlorine is now in place to treat the water before it makes its way into the Apies River. The committee has called for a regular update on the disciplinary process around the matter," chairperson of the committee, Machwene Semenya, said.

Semenya said the committee is of the view that there was clear dereliction of duty on the part of the municipality in its interaction with residents of the City.

A community leader informed the committee that the city had told them to bring scientific evidence to support their claim that the quality of water was not desirable.

"For a municipality to tell its residents, who are mostly poor and unemployed, that they must bring scientific proof is both unfortunate and insensitive. The committee hopes that the city will use this crisis as a learning curve, and will in future interact better with residents," Semenya said.

Semenya said the maintenance of the entire water system remains a concern in Tshwane and across the country, which must be urgently remedied.

"It is unsustainable that municipalities on average spend less than 10% of their budgets on water and sanitation, especially because of the economic value of water and the health risk associated with water illnesses, especially because residents pay for water and sanitation as part of the rates and taxes. That money must be invested in infrastructure programmes on water and sanitation," Semenya said.

Underspending budget

Semenya also noted that there has been a general underspending on capital expenditure by the City of Tshwane since 2008/09 financial year.

"This is concerning, especially in the context of inward migration which affects big cities such as Tshwane. The unintended consequence of under expenditure of capex is collapsing system that is perpetually at risk level.

"The committee is concerned that of the 15 Waste Water Treatment Works, only two are operating within design capacity and four are at a critical state. It is unacceptable that South Africa's capital city spends just over R400 million on water and sanitation capex in a financial year," Semenya said.

She said the lack of forward planning by the City of Tshwane as a water services authority and the National Department of Water and Sanitation, is a concern that needs an urgent attention.

"It boggles one's mind why the municipality in 2004 had a masterplan that indicated that infrastructure expenditure had to take into consideration population growth, economic growth and development, and ageing infrastructure and pressure points in the system, yet no plans were implemented to take those items into consideration in their implemented programmes.

"That lack of planning will now result in crisis spending to remedy the challenges such as seen in Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment Plant, which will cost over R2 billion over two phases," Semenya said.

While welcoming the City and the department's commitment to work together to remedy the situation, Semenya said the committee is of the view that more far-reaching actions must be looked at from both governance and administration perspective to deal with issues of water and sanitation provision.

The committee has instructed the department and the City to provide regular updates on the interventions.

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