Maverick Citizen


Time to personally sue the councillors who did nothing to prevent the cholera outbreak

Time to personally sue the councillors who did nothing to prevent the cholera outbreak
Jubilee District Hospital in Hamanskraal. The Gauteng health department has confirmed that the death toll in the cholera outbreak has risen to 15. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

The successive municipal governments of Tshwane, like those in its counterpart metros, have contrived to create this appalling situation.

Reports of a deadly outbreak of cholera in Tshwane are grim but not surprising.

Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that causes the ancient scourge of cholera, is naturally occurring in brackish or salt water, but is a fearsome pathogen that thrives in the absence of two conditions: a steady supply of potable water for consumption and effective wastewater management.

The prevalence of cholera is synonymous with great natural or physical distress, such as earthquakes, inundations or war. As expected, regions with poor water infrastructure from sheer underdevelopment are at greatest risk of the disease.

None of these conditions prevail in Hammanskraal in Tshwane. But it has a prevalence of catastrophic failure of governance arising from the alarming fact that an elementary municipal function has proved to be beyond the capabilities of a major metro council.

This remarkable state of affairs is the result of a set of choices that has ensured that wastewater treatment capacity of the Rooiwal Wastewater Works is degraded and sufficient potable water supply is absent, because metro decision-makers there are either not intellectually or technically equipped to manage the water supply, or couldn’t care less, as long as they could somehow engineer an advantage over their political rivals in gaining access to the budget.

[The outbreak] is a pulled thread in a major unravelling threatening the country.

From there it is a short step to cholera or another enteric disease outbreak. Having pulled the short straw and getting cholera, the City of Tshwane has gone into full political protection mode, officiously informing Hammanskraal residents to take the matter seriously by urging them “not to drink tap water”, as though they are the architects of their own fate for choosing to live there.

Injecting a Kafka-esque touch, the Gauteng health department sees opportunity to demonstrate its non-existent readiness to deal with any public health emergency, other than shift bemused health workers around in a sort of improvised political pantomime orchestrated by the MEC, who has no experience whatsoever in public health nor in demonstrating that her presence there will ensure a swift and effective response. There have been more cases and more deaths since her arrival.

That the outbreak of a primitive illness, which the Romans eradicated in their midst more than 2,000 years ago through the creation of aqueducts, occurs in an industrialised region in the most industrialised province of the most industrialised country on the continent is a pulled thread in a major unravelling threatening the country.

The successive municipal governments of Tshwane, like those in its counterpart metros, have contrived to create this appalling situation. The wilful neglect by the Emfuleni council of the Vaal water system, Africa’s second-most important waterway, presents the alarming prospect of similar outbreaks for that region, with cases registered in Vredefort and Parys. 

Many more will follow, as interconnected waterways and internal movement of infected people will find ripe breeding ground for V cholerae in dozens of municipalities where water systems have collapsed. 

Anguish and anger

The families and friends of those who have succumbed are today enveloped in sorrow and grief; and they may find solace in faith and accept their loss, as fate or forgiveness would have it. But when the sorrow has eased and the grieving is done and when they realise that the deaths of their beloved were preventable and that those who should have prevented them were otherwise engaged in the caricature of public service that masquerades as municipal government, the anguish and anger will be immense.

Quick facts about the cholera outbreak

15 people from Hammanskraal have died from cholera, 34 more have been admitted to hospital

The outbreak was caused by water from a dysfunctional wastewater treatment plant

Regions with poor water infrastructure are at greatest risk of the disease

Health experts have been warning against a big cholera outbreak

During an outbreak in 2008 authorities recorded 12,705 cases, including 65 deaths

Read more about how to ensure your water is safe to drink

This anger will not be requited at the polls, another performative element of this democracy (we’ve had three since the deadly Life Esidimeni scandal), which may spew out different faces but will only deliver more of the same. How can it be otherwise, if the form of government virtually guarantees its underperformance?

After naming them, sue them, in their personal capacities and their respective parties, for causing these negligent, wrongful and unforgivable deaths.

No, this anger may be better directed at the whole self-serving political establishment in the metro. They should name every previous and current DA, ANC and EFF councillor, as well as the equally pathetic and reactionary cameos of ActionSA, PA, and FF+ who contributed to the degradation of Rooiwal’s water and sanitation infrastructure, either because they did not grasp its importance, believing perhaps that water fairies pour buckets of the stuff into their taps, or who broke it so friends with beat-up water tankers could score tenders and ferry water from other areas (for which that area’s residents pay) to Hammanskraal.

This is, of course, the modus operandi that has, through the same self-interest, avarice and criminality, devastated most other municipal services, Eskom, Transnet, Prasa, public health services, basic education and the economy.

To those councillors who will bristle at the accusation that they did not try to influence the presiding political authority to fix Rooiwal, well, they could have resigned and maintained honour, but like for those who remained when a former president and his gang of thieves plundered the national treasure, honour is just another misspelt three-letter word.

After naming them, sue them, in their personal capacities and their respective parties, for causing these negligent, wrongful and unforgivable deaths. In that way, we may all have a measure of satisfaction that a blow was struck against a political elite, who, like Vibrio cholerae and SARS-CoV-2, behave like pathogens, too. 

But, unlike bacteria and viruses, their worst effects arise from how they lie with straight faces and cynically ignore their sworn obligation to the well-being of the commonwealth, which, as we see repeatedly, is just as deadly and kills people just as assuredly. DM

Dr Aslam Dasoo is convenor of the Progressive Health Forum.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mike99 S says:

    Suing councilors cant be easy or we would have seen more cases being brought.
    perhaps a qualified reader could explain the steps required to succeed in such an endeavor and the likely costs (budget required).
    If an activist could lead the way , this could be a new way of taking back our country from the trough feeders. could the civil courts achieve what the criminal justice system seems unable to

    • rmrobinson says:

      It’s not that difficult to sue the councillors. Sue the relevant council or municipality, ask that it identify the individuals responsible for the mess, then join those individuals to the litigation and ask the court to hold them personally liable. There are precedents where courts have held individuals personally liable for the failure to do their jobs. Ask the court to order the department to pay the costs and then to recover a percentage of the costs from the culpable individuals. In my view, holding individuals who do not do their jobs personally liable for the consequences of their actions, is the only way of getting them to do their jobs. One must turn this culture of laziness, entitlement, incompetence and failure to take responsibility around. It is an evil culture which is causing suffering to millions. And that suffering could and should have been avoided. Time for Africa to take a long hard look at itself.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Absolutely agree. Until individuals are held personally responsible for the failures of systems, nothing will change! No one even gets fired whereas they should be charged criminally if possible, held financially liable and banned for life from any government job or contract. The most industrial country is reaching a tipping point- so much is going wrong all at the same time.

  • William Kelly says:

    The lawyers will be the only ones to profit from this. Scum that they are, defending scum with the taxes that should have been used correctly in the first place. Read the column on Life Esidemeni published here, today. This will be no different.
    Taxpayers will leave. Those that can’t afford to pay tax will just, ummm, you know, die like flies? I wonder what it will take for the people to work out what needs to be done and then do it. Given the track record I am afraid that holding one’s breath might prove to be fatal.

  • André Pelser says:

    The legal route in suing public representatives is torturous and will only further fatten the wallets of lawyers, see the Life Esidimeni example!
    Perhaps a class action against the council as a collective, and executive would be more effective.
    Activists should focus on whether the water issues have been on council agendas and what the councillors of the various parties have been contributing to the debate. One should also look at the participation and contribution of councillors in the relevant committees – are they fit for purpose?
    Why did no organisation initiate a class action against the council for dereliction of fundamental duty, pressure to allocate sufficient funds and resources to water infrastructure and causes of water pollution eg. no ablution facilities in informal settlements ? Dr. Dasoo?

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