South Africa


Sewage crisis in Graaff-Reinet after infrastructure funds are used for drought relief 

Large parts of Graaff-Reinet were left without water after vandals broke open one of the town's main reservoirs earlier in February 2020. (Photo: Beyers Naude District Municipality)

Despite meetings, countless reports, attempts to fix it and even criminal charges, the sewage problem in Graaff-Reinet has become extremely serious, with residents now asking that drought funding be channelled to fix the collapsing infrastructure instead. This comes after millions allocated to the municipality to fix the town’s sewerage system was spent on drought relief instead.

“We have an extremely serious sewerage problem,” says the chairperson of the Graaff-Reinet Economic Development Forum, Derek Light.

In November 2019 the forum laid a formal complaint with the Department of Water Affairs against the Beyers Naude Municipality over ongoing sewage spills in the town and into the Sundays River. This resulted in the department issuing the municipality with a directive to fix the problems.

“They tried, but their attempt at fixing the problem only lasted a few weeks,” Light said.

“We are on the municipality’s case all the time. One of the problems is that a lot of money was made available for drought relief and was spent on finding new solutions, but not enough was allocated for the maintenance of existing infrastructure. We can’t stress enough that the sewerage system is part of the water cycle. We are advocating for some of the drought funding to be redirected to fixing the sewerage system,” he said.

“The municipality’s defence, if you want to call it that, is that they do not have the money. To us that is just unacceptable. It is just not good enough. You cannot say that you are serious about water and then not be serious about sewage,” he said.

He said they are trying to promote co-governance between the municipality and communities but ongoing sewage problems were making it very difficult.

“This has been very frustrating. It is an absolute nightmare,” he said. “There is a dire lack of maintenance to existing infrastructure.”

He said the national government will have to drive the replacement of the sewerage system as the municipality simply did not have the money to do so.

He said it was central to their activities to assist the local government in achieving service delivery. “This includes securing the water supply to the residents of Graaff-Reinet (and to industry) for the next 30 to 50 years and securing a renewable energy supply to meet the demands of industry and the residents of our town,” Light said.

Last week, Democratic Alliance member of Parliament Samantha Graham-Maré and the shadow MEC for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Yusuf Cassim, opened a criminal case against the municipality over their “inability” to curb the flow of raw sewage in the Sundays River.

She said the criminal charges were laid against Beyers Naude municipal manager, Dr Edward Rankwana, and the municipality at the Graaff-Reinet Police Station.

“The charges relate to Section 151 (1) of the National Water Act 36 of 1998, following the municipality’s continued intentional and wilful contamination and pollution of the Sundays River. If those implicated are found guilty, they can face either up to 10 years imprisonment, a substantial fine, or both.

“This pollution of the Sundays River has been ongoing over the past five years with the municipality seemingly unable, or unwilling, to fix the pump stations that will stop the flow of raw sewage into the river.

“Despite the continued assertions by the municipality that the sewage pump stations have been repaired and are in working order, all indications are that this is not the case and that both the Nqweba Dam and the Sundays River are being polluted by sewage from the dysfunctional pump stations.

“Last year I posed parliamentary questions to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu, to ascertain what steps have been taken to address the allegations that the sewage pump stations are not working and that, as a cause, sewage is flowing into the Sundays River. The Minister responded on 15 January 2020 and wrote that the Municipality advised that all three pump stations were fixed and are operational 24 hours every day.

“The Municipality is clearly blatantly lying to national government and residents while their health and economic futures are being put at risk,” Graham-Maré said. She said she would also write to the Green Scorpions to address the issue.

According to Sisulu’s response the municipality “confirmed” that all three pump stations were repaired and operational and all evidence of sewage spills have been cleared up.

“Procurement of new pumps to ensure backup pumps in each pump station will take 12 weeks to implement. The Department’s regional office in the Eastern Cape has allocated R7-million to Dr Beyers Naudé Local Municipality for planned projects in the 2019/20 financial year. Due to the declaration of drought disaster, the department has allowed these funds to be reprioritised and most of these funds have been assigned to emergency water supply schemes.”

A spokesperson for the Beyers Naudé municipality, Edwardine Abader, did not respond to a request for comment. MC


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