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Citizen network initiative opens criminal case against City of Johannesburg after yearlong sewage spill

Citizen network initiative opens criminal case against City of Johannesburg after yearlong sewage spill
Members of the SANDF and officials at a sewage treatment plant section of the Vaal River during a clean-up operation on 1 December 2018. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Alaister Russell)

WaterCAN, an Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse initiative, is demanding accountability for a sewage spill in Johannesburg that has continued for a year and overwhelmed other sewage plants.

Citizen network organisation WaterCAN is opening a criminal case against the City of Johannesburg’s municipal managers for a yearlong sewage spill that has heavily affected the function of other waste waterworks facilities and sewage management in the city. 

WaterCAN, an Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse initiative, opened a criminal complaint last week against former acting municipal manager Bryne Maduka and recently appointed municipal manager Floyd Brink for failing to address the problem. 

According to a WaterCAN statement, the breakdown of a generator at the Goudkoppies Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW) last year saw sewage inflow rerouted to nearby Bushkoppies WWTW during power cuts. A cable theft two weeks after the breakdown and no generator meant that all the sewage from Goudkoppies was directed to Bushkoppies, which cannot deal with the excess inflow. 

This meant that raw sewage was spilling into the Harrington Spruit River which then flows into the Klip River and, ultimately, the Vaal River. A year later, the sewage is still being redirected to Bushkoppies.

This is despite the DWS issuing the City of Johannesburg with a directive to address the issue. 

The City of Johannesburg’s deputy director of communications Nthatisi Modingoane told Daily Maverick via email that the City was unaware of any criminal charges laid against them.

“After extensive discussions with Joburg Water, the City’s water and sanitation entity, and our legal department, I can confirm that the City of Johannesburg is not aware of any criminal charges against its former or current managers. We learned about this matter through media reports,” said Modingoane.

The deputy director further added that the City of Johannesburg has been working with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to implement existing plans, saying there had been no indication by DWS that the City had failed to implement a directive.


“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,” said 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.

Daily Maverick previously reported that the Department of Water and Sanitation had laid criminal charges against several municipalities for failing to implement a corrective plan that would address water challenges such as poor water quality and unmaintained water infrastructure.

While charges weren’t filed against the City of Johannesburg, most of the municipalities were located in Gauteng.

Dr Ferrial Adam, the executive manager of WaterCAN, told Daily Maverick that charging only the municipality, rather than its leaders, did not address the incompetence of those at the helm. It does not address the issues of water service delivery and the organisation had to be harsh and lay criminal charges against individuals.

“The bottom line is that the Department of Water and Sanitation is taking 40 municipalities to court, charging them. That is a drop in the ocean in terms of the municipalities’ functionality across the country … Having said that, it is not enough for municipalities to pay the fine because there goes taxpayers’ money.

“Unless we charge the people responsible, this is going to continue. Because if the municipalities pay the fine, those people who had caused the mess are still in their positions,” Adam said. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Department lays criminal charges against municipalities not meeting sanitation service delivery mandate

Professor Anthony Turton, a water management expert at the University of the Free State, told Daily Maverick Johannesburg produced about five billion litres of sewage per day, and only 3% of that is treated properly. 

“All of the wastewater that goes out into the river ends up in over 1,000 drinking water plants in the country and none of those plants was ever designed to take sewage-contaminated water and turn it into safe potable water. So our sewage problem is badly out of control … We are overloading our drinking water system in the country and it’s only a question of time before we start to see the cumulative impact of that,” Turton said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Critical but stable – SA’s water quality and infrastructure rated

The release of the Blue and Green Drop Watch Reports last month showed the poor quality of SA’s drinking water and ailing wastewater treatment facilities. The release of the full Blue, Green and No Drop reports is expected in October. The last full reports were released nine years ago. 

Municipalities have often blamed a lack of financial resources for the failure to implement corrective measures that would improve water quality and facilities. However, Adam said that this excuse was unacceptable as there are funds, but much of them are wasted. The WaterCAN executive manager added that it was concerning that municipalities were wasting money when water is a basic need. 

“Water is life and not a luxury. If you allow systems to fail, it is harder to get back from that. And some of the solutions are not billions and trillions of rands. Some of the systems just need enough chemicals — some need chlorine while some have too much chlorine.

“We also need DWS to jump in and assist with all of this with the infrastructure grant that they haven’t been using sufficiently. So there are those steps that they can take before saying they don’t have the money to do this,” Adam said. DM

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