CHOLERA OUTBREAK AFTERMATH
‘No ongoing crisis,’ says City of Tshwane, even though Hammanskraal tap water still unfit for drinking
In the aftermath of the cholera outbreak in May centred on Hammanskraal that claimed more than 20 lives, there are lingering concerns about the quality of water supplied to the area by the City of Tshwane.
In a recent report, the newly appointed Public Protector, Kholeka Gcaleka, found the City of Tshwane had failed to provide Hammanskraal residents with “clean water that is suitable for human consumption”. She gave the City 60 days to come up with a plan to address the water challenges in Hammanskraal.
“The lack of access to clean and potable water poses a danger to the lives of affected community members, constitutes a continuous gross inconvenience and improper prejudice to the residents of Hammanskraal,” Gcaleka stated in the report.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Hammanskraal cholera outbreak ‘represents the ears of the hippopotamus’ of SA’s wastewater treatment crisis
At the time of the cholera outbreak, officials from various levels of government, including the City of Tshwane, made several commitments, which included:
- Investigating and finding the source of the cholera outbreak;
- Providing Hammanskraal with water that is safe to drink; and
- Testing water at various distribution points, including hydrants and reservoirs.
Speaking in Parliament during the outbreak, the deputy minister of water and sanitation, David Mahlobo, said that communities must receive good quality water.
Mahlobo vowed that he and other officials would follow up on the situation.
Intermittent water supply
Almost six months later, residents claim not much has changed regarding the water provision in Hammanskraal, while the cause of the cholera outbreak, which also led to deaths in other parts of Gauteng and other provinces, remains unknown.
The City of Tshwane continues to use tankers to provide water for Hammanskraal residents, with each tanker costing the city just over R200,000 per month, according to a report by eNCA.
Tumelo Koitheng, from the Hammanskraal Residents’ Forum, said: “The state of the water in Hammanskraal is still the same and not fit for human consumption. Nothing has changed and the reason for this is that until the source of contamination is dealt with, our water situation will remain the same.”
Stevens Moyambo, who runs a business outside the Jubilee Hospital in Hammanskraal, said: “The water situation in Hammanskraal has not yet [been] resolved, even after President Cyril Ramaphosa came here to apologise and promised to do better. The government and the City of Tshwane have failed us and it does not look like there are intentions to solve our water problem.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘We have failed you, the people of Hammanskraal,’ says Ramaphosa
One resident pointed out, “We don’t receive water every day from the tankers, and we are uncertain about the reasons. Since the source of the cholera outbreak remains unknown, there is still a lack of trust in the tankers. Many of us find ourselves having to budget extra money to buy drinking water, relying on the tanker water for other purposes.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Killer cholera hits amid decade-long bickering over Hammanskraal water crisis – and tender scandals
While Hammanskraal residents say there is a water crisis in the region, the City of Tshwane believes otherwise.
‘No ongoing crisis’
City of Tshwane spokesperson Siphosethu Stuurman said, “There is no ongoing crisis as the city continues to provide potable water through water tankers as an interim measure while we address the infrastructure challenges in partnership with the Department of Water and Sanitation.
“Furthermore, there was never any report or finding that said the cholera outbreak was linked to our water resources. Our own tests, including independent studies by CSIR and other institutions, could not conclusively find the source as Tshwane water resources.
“We have long admitted and communicated as the city that the water from the taps in Hammanskraal is not suitable for consumption, hence we have deployed water tankers to assist. The latest tests of water drawn from the tankers show that the water is safe from water tankers, not taps.”
City of Tshwane Mayor Cilliers Brink said he welcomed the Public Protector’s Hammanskraal water report and that remedial actions were being implemented.
“While the city cannot change what happened in the past, we can learn from it and take responsibility for redressing the problem. The remedial actions ordered by the Public Protector accord with what the city has already undertaken in partnership with the Department of Water and Sanitation [DWS],” the mayor said.
“That partnership agreement is being monitored by the Mayoral Committee, and a full report in compliance with the Public Protector remedial actions will be tabled at the municipal council before the end of this month. The city has allocated R450-million towards upgrading the Rooiwal Wastewater Treatment Plant over three years.
“This includes R150-million spread over each financial year. Priority will be given to finalise Phase 1 upgrades and to initiate Phase 2 upgrades. Our partnership with the DWS will be essential to our success, as will the continued funding of capital projects by the national government.
“As previously communicated, the Development Bank of Southern Africa will act as an independent implementing agent, and on our part as the city we maintain that no companies implicated in corruption or in State Capture are awarded any tenders.
“We must now all work together to provide a long-lasting solution for the benefit of the people of Hammanskraal. The city will study the further particulars of the report and ensure that we deliver on our promise to the people of Hammanskraal.”
A national challenge
Dr Ferrial Adam, the executive manager at WaterCAN, a network of citizen science activists advocating clean, safe and sustainable water, acknowledged there had been some improvements in the government’s response to the water issues in Hammanskraal.
However, she told Daily Maverick that water tankers can never be a permanent solution.
“The attention from the government has given to Hammanskraal has been good. Two things: I hope the money that was squandered [in previous water infrastructure upgrades] leads to arrests and the second thing is that what we are seeing in Hammanskraal is a national challenge. Our water and wastewater treatment is in a dire state.
“What does the city mean there is no ongoing crisis? People are still dependent on water tankers for water. Water tankers are supposed to be a temporary measure, not the norm of how people can get clean, safe drinking water.” DM