South Africa

SERVICE DELIVERY CRISIS

Acting Public Protector orders Ekurhuleni to fix sewage leaks blighting community for 20 years

Acting Public Protector orders Ekurhuleni to fix sewage leaks blighting community for 20 years
Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka. (Photo: Lubabalo Lesolle / Gallo Images)

Norkem Park residents in Ekurhuleni have battled with sewage flowing into their homes for more than 20 years. In a recent report, acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka said the municipality finally must permanently resolve the infrastructure issues.

The Public Protector has ruled in favour of residents of a small suburb in Gauteng who have been battling with sewage flowing into their homes and the resultant pollution threatening their health for more than 20 years. 

Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka’s office was alerted to the plight of residents in Norkem Park, Kempton Park, by ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba more than a year ago. 

Delivering a series of reports recently, Gcaleka found that the municipality had failed to ensure through reasonable legislative measures that the residents’ constitutional right to an environment not harmful to their health was met. 

“In terms of section 152(1)(a) of the Constitution, it was expected of the municipality to resolve the sewerage spillage without undue delay in fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide an accountable government for local communities as envisaged in this section …” 

In her 30-page report, Gcaleka said that had the municipality put measures in place on time the sewage spill in the properties of residents on Pikkewyn Street could have been prevented. 

She attributed the root cause of the problem, which has existed since 2001, to “administrative deficiencies”, which meant the sewerage infrastructure was neglected and poorly maintained and in turn resulted in large volumes of rainwater accumulating during the rainy season and causing sewage spillage.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Poor service delivery: Ekurhuleni’s Thokoza hungers for the light to come 

 Gcaleka said that, iIn her engagement with the municipal officials, the officials attributed the city’s inability to resolve the crisis speedily to financial constraints. 

“The unreasonable delay to rectify the situation is not in accord with the provisions of section 195(e) of the Constitution, which enjoins state organs to respond to people’s needs and section 237 of the Constitution, which imposes a duty on state officials to perform their constitutional obligations diligently and without delay.”

The Ekurhuleni council has grappled with several ructions in recent months, which among others saw the ousting of former DA mayor Tania Campbell and Speaker Raymond Dhlamini in March this year. 

The council strife left residents with little or no delivery of services, with problems ranging from uncollected waste and potholed roads to sewage, power and water challenges.

Campbell was succeeded by Sivuyile Ngodwana, who in his maiden State of the City Address in April made several promises including that service delivery problems in Ekurhuleni were “history”.

“We as the people’s government have now taken the baton and the service delivery machine gets in motion with earnestness right now.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Potholes, sewage, power cuts – these problems are ‘history’, vows new Ekurhuleni mayor

Sewage flowing through Villa Liza Ext 4 township on 2 May 2023 in Boksburg, South Africa, under the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

Remedial action 

Gcaleka has ordered the municipality to inform the community members within 30 days of progress made in the implementation and finalisation of measures to permanently resolve the sewerage infrastructure issues. 

Not only does the city have to account to the residents, but also to the City’s council within 90 calendar days. 

“Upon receipt of this report, monitor and report to Council on whether the recurring problems faced by complainants relating to the sewage blockage have been appropriately and timeously addressed through the upgrading of the sewer pipelines, as per the intervention measures proposed by the Municipality’s Water and Sanitation Department,” the Public Protector instructed the city. 

Voices hear, at last

“Our voices have been heard at last,” resident Annie Whitehorn said. She told Daily Maverick that the situation had worsened over the years. 

“After rainy days, the stench would be so unbearable that we would often have to close all the windows and doors and not allow for any air to come in,” Whitehorn said. 

Gcaleka said she noted intervention measures provided to her by the municipality in May 2023, including the upgrade of the sewer pipe reticulation system, which commenced in February 2023 with the anticipated completion in June 2025. 

“However, as stated above, the Public Protector notes that there may already be challenges in maintaining the projected timeframes as anticipated in the intervention plan and urges the Municipality to prevent any further prejudice that may be suffered by this community.” 

ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba said the party welcomed the remedial measures taken by Gcaleka despite the office taking more than a year and a half to investigate the matter.

“ActionSA is grateful that the concerns of the residents of Birch Acres are finally heard and given the attention it deserves after ActionSA laid this complaint with the Chapter 9 Institution.

“For more than 10 years the community of Birch Acres have had to battle sewage flowing into their homes, and it is simply unacceptable that their complaints have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears.

“ActionSA, a party committed to social justice, will make sure that the pleas of this community are heard, and they receive the services they are entitled to,” Mashaba said. 

Furthermore, the party, which sits on the opposition benches in council, said it would endeavour to ensure that the City Manager reports to the council within 90 days, as mandated by Gcaleka. 

“Whether the recurring problems faced by complainants relating to the sewage blockage have been appropriately addressed. If the City Manager and the ANC-EFF coalition fail to adhere to the Public Protector’s remedial action, ActionSA will take additional steps to help the community of Birch Acres,” Mashaba added. DM

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