Sizwe sama Yende | City Press
06:00 23/10/2016

A permanent fetid smell wafts in the air in Sakhile township near Standerton where residents have given up on fruitless attempts to get the Lekwa municipality to upgrade sewerage infrastructure.

Concerned locals wonder whether real change will come the day the sewage flowing into the Vaal River seriously affects the Vaal Dam, with Gauteng business and conservation groups demanding action from provincial and national spheres of government.

Residents have been living with sewage on the streets since about 2009, while the Lekwa municipality has been sending one company after the next to fix the leaking pipes without any success.

The sewage flows directly from houses onto the streets. In one area, a pipe spurts litres of water nonstop into a wetland, which flows all the way under a bridge to the Vaal River that supplies Gauteng with water.

The river originates near Ermelo in Mpumalanga and flows in a westerly direction through Standerton and Sakhile township to Heidelberg and into the Vaal Dam in Vereeniging. The dam mainly feeds industries and households in Gauteng.

Minority rights group AfriForum took samples of the Vaal River water in Standerton to a laboratory last year and tests revealed that the amount of E. coli and faecal coliform bacteria exceeded 1 000 units per 100ml.

“This means the Lekwa municipality is polluting water for many people in Gauteng,” said AfriForum’s Mpumalanga coordinator, Hillel Coetzer.

City Press bumped into resident Samson Msibi (57) near the wetland. Msibi said the community had pinned their hopes on newly elected councillors after the August 3 local government elections to fix the problem, but nothing has changed.

“This whole township has a flow of sewage spill. Our goats and cattle die, and we suspect it’s because of drinking the polluted water. The municipality has hired companies to fix this problem and they leave without making a difference,” Msibi said.

Lekwa municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mtshiselwa did not respond to written questions despite confirming receipt.

Situated along one of the streets is the Saving Grace Daycare Centre for children aged two to six years. The centre’s principal, Mangaka Sebiloane, said at least two children get sick every month.

“They tend to suffer with skin rashes, diarrhoea and vomiting,” Sebiloane said.

“Windows of some of the classes cannot be opened, no matter how hot it is, because of the foul smell. We have to lock the gate and supervise these kids to ensure that they don’t play with the sewage water [in the street].

The two-year olds can’t jump the flowing sewage and have to be lifted across [muddy puddles] when the transport drops them in the morning and picks them up in the afternoon,” she said.

Coetzer said AfriForum was preparing to bring criminal charges against the municipality in terms of the National Water Act for polluting the water, while the DA this week asked the SA Human Rights Commission to investigate the management of waste water in the municipality.

“This follows a recent legislature oversight visit where we found that Lekwa municipality was actively channelling raw sewage through the streets of Sakhile township and into the Vaal River,” said provincial DA leader James Masango.

“Over the years, numerous lobby groups and individuals have pressed charges against the municipality. Despite this, the municipality is yet to find a lasting solution to its sewerage woes and has in the meantime left the community of Sakhile to live in inhumane conditions,” Masango said.

Water sources manager for the WWF Dean Muruven said waste water treatment plants were the biggest polluters of water in South Africa.

“The value of keeping wetlands and water clean is vital in this drought. We have a problem of ageing and poorly maintained infrastructure to prevent situations like this. Where do we find R700 billion to upgrade the infrastructure?” said Muruven.

Sebiloane and Msibi said the municipality knew what the source of problem was: small sewerage pipes with no capacity to carry the amount of sewage from Sakhile and Standerton residents.

The population is growing and more houses have been built, loading on the strained and ageing infrastructure.