WaterCAN lays criminal charges against City of Joburg municipal managers for sewage pollution

WaterCAN lays criminal charges against City of Joburg municipal managers for sewage pollution

Activists must take action over pollution as City of Johannesburg municipal manager Floyd Brink and former manager Bryne Maduka failed to stop year-long sewage spill blamed on infrastructure failure

Image: WaterCAN

On Freedom Day last year the generator at the Goudkoppies Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW) broke down, so sewage inflow had to be rerouted to nearby Bushkoppies WWTW during power cuts.

Less than two weeks later, cable theft at Goudkoppies and still no generator meant that all inflow was rerouted to Bushkoppies, which did not have the capacity to cope with the flow.

A year later, despite a directive from the Department of Water and Sanitation to the City of Johannesburg (COJ), Goudkoppies inflow is still rerouted to Bushkoppies so raw sewage is still spilling into the Harringtonspruit and from there flowing into the Klip River and ultimately the Vaal River. Both WWTWs are managed by the COJ through its entity Johannesburg Water.

Today (25 July 2023), WaterCAN, an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), takes action by opening a criminal complaint against the COJ, the former acting municipal manager Bryne Maduka, and the recently appointed municipal manager Floyd Brink over their failure to address the ongoing sewage pollution.

“Sewage pollution is killing our river ecosystems. South Africa is a water-scarce country, and such high levels of pollution are completely criminal. It is time to hold people accountable for not doing their jobs. Polluting water is a violation of basic rights, including the right to health,” says Dr Ferrial Adam, Executive Manager for WaterCAN.

Johannesburg straddles a major watershed between the Vaal River Catchment and the Limpopo River Catchment. The state of the rivers and streams in Johannesburg is a major concern, given the high levels of pollution from industry, mining, and wastewater treatment works.

In August 2022, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) issued a directive to COJ for its failure to prevent pollution from the overflowing of the emergency dam of Bushkoppies in Eldorado Park, which causes raw sewage wastewater to flow into the Harringtonspruit.

The directive ordered Maduka, the acting city manager at the time, to stop the pollution immediately and clean up, to provide an action plan to correct non-compliance within seven working days, to appoint an environmental expert to compile a rehabilitation plan within 30 days, and to implement the full rehabilitation plan with 30 days of DWS approving that plan.

Despite the DWS’s directive, COJ has failed to take adequate corrective action, and water pollution in the Klip River continues. Recent inspections conducted by the DWS on 23 February 2023 at Bushkoppies and on 1 March 2023 at the nearby Goudkoppies in Riversdale showed no improvement. The Klip River has been at the centre of recent cholera cases in Johannesburg, further highlighting the urgent need for action.

Although DWS has oversight over this, it does not appear to have followed up with action to enforce its directive.

WaterCAN was alerted to the ongoing pollution problem by concerned residents, and obtained copies of the DWS directive and reports on site visits through a request for information in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

“Section 19 and 20 of the National Water Act deals with prevention and remedying the effects of pollution, and that is our basis for laying the criminal charges against COJ. The failure to comply with the directive constitutes a criminal offence in terms of Section 151 of the Act and, as such, COJ and the municipal manager should be held to account in accordance with the criminal justice system,” says Asavela Kakaza, OUTA’s Legal Project Manager.

Offences under these sections carry penalties of a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 5 years for the first conviction.

“Sewage pollution is a challenge across the country. Water activists must explore similar charges against municipal managers who are failing in their duties. This must be the beginning of holding officials to account for years of dereliction of duty of care over our water resources,” says Adam.

Earlier this month, WaterCAN conducted laboratory tests in Eikenhof, and high levels of E.coli were found in the Klip River, which indicates that there is still high levels of spillage from the WWTWs. “In our water testing, we discovered a high E. coli count of 101 000 CFU/100ml. This is especially concerning considering the river’s importance for recreational use and traditional cleansing practices,” says Adam.

WaterCAN is committed to protecting South Africa’s precious water resources and ensuring that those responsible for pollution are held accountable. The legal action against COJ aims to send a strong message that sewage pollution is unacceptable and must be addressed urgently to safeguard public health and the environment.

“We hope that the investigation is swift, and that those accountable for the sewerage pollution will face the full might of the law,” says Adam.


More information

A soundclip with comment by WaterCAN Executive Manager Dr Ferrial Adam is here.

A copy of the DWS directive of 25 August 2022 is here.

Goudkoppies WWTW
Goudkoppies WWTW – WaterCAN
Klipriver Pollution
Klipriver Pollution – WaterCAN

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