In these North West towns there’s no escape from sewage, not even after death

Municipalities’ water and sanitation failure violates Constitution, SAHRC finds

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A screengrab from Google Earth (September 2021) shows untreated sewage pooling in the cemetery at Sannieshof in the North West Province. It is visible in the lower centre of the image and flows past the informal settlement to the Harts River (upper left).

  • Sewage floods homes, streets, and a cemetery in a North West Province municipality.
  • Residents go without drinking water for days as there is not enough diesel for borehole pumps.
  • The Human Rights Commission has found the district and local municipality in violation of the Constitution, and water and environmental legislation.
  • The water and sanitation failures have been ongoing for at least three years.

There is so much sewage spilling out of broken pipes and manholes due to pipe blockages in Sannieshof in the North West that part of the cemetery is flooded and some graves are inaccessible.

There are households that are unable to use their toilet due to backflows from the blocked sewerage system, and sewage flows down the township’s streets. Even the drinking water, which only flows at night, smells like sewage, according to a resident.

The raw sewage flooding the cemetery can be seen on Google Earth, from imagery dated September 2021. This was the same month that the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) conducted a site inspection of sewage spills and lack of drinking water provision in Sannieshof, Ottosdal, and Delareyville, all within the Tswaing Local Municipality, following numerous complaints.

On Google Earth, sewage can be seen forming a vlei of human waste between the cemetery and the informal settlement, with the pollution flowing toward the Harts River, which reflects an acid green colour indicative of an algal bloom caused by high concentrations of nitrates and phosphates, as contained in untreated sewage.

The SAHRC Final Investigative Report, signed off on 20 April 2023, notes at least two homes in Agisanang, Sannieshof, had raw sewage pooling in their yards. Blockages further down the sewerage line meant the families in the two homes couldn’t flush their toilets for fear of them simply overflowing.

The SAHRC investigation found the Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality and Tswaing Local Municipality were also violating provisions of the Constitution, the Water Services Act, and the National Environmental Management Act in Ottosdal and Delareyville.

In the Ottosdal township of Letsopa the floors of one home were completely flooded with sewage due to backflows of sewage from the toilet because of blockages down the sewerage line.

“The yard around this home was also flooded with raw sewage,” stated the SAHRC.

The commissioners reported raw sewage flowing out of manholes into private yards and streets in other parts of Letsopa. This had been happening for “prolonged periods”, residents told the SAHRC officials.

In Delareyville, the officials said, “the residents live in an environment that is contaminated by raw sewage”.

In Sannieshof, Agisanang residents also went for days without water because there was no diesel for the pumps operating the boreholes supplying water to the township.

Residents of the Jachtkraal Farm settlement to the north east of Delareyville also went days without water for the same reason, and some lived more than 200m from a borehole where they had to collect water for the household.

Both the district and local municipality ignored letters from the SAHRC and it was only when the commission’s investigators went to their offices on 28 September 2021 that they managed to engage with municipal officials, who “denied that any challenges relating to water and sanitation existed”.

On 29 September 2021, the SAHRC officials were accompanied on their site inspections in Sannieshof, Ottosdal, Delareyville, and Jachtkraal Farm by officials from the district municipality. The municipal officials promised to provide more water service points at Jachtkraal Farm and attend to the diesel shortages within two days, and to appoint a service provider to unblock the sewerage pipes in Sannieshof, Delareyville, and Ottosdal.

But a follow-up inspection on 14 October 2021 found the promised water service points and diesel supply had not been provided, and although a sewer jet had been used to clear blocked pipes, it had been ineffective.

According to the report, when the SAHRC sent a letter to the district municipality in December 2021 setting out “all allegations of human rights violations made against it”, no response was received.

When a copy of the preliminary report was shared with the municipalities on 22 August last year, inviting them to submit comments within 21 days, no comments were received.

The Final Investigative Report found the municipalities in violation of the Constitution, the Water Services Act, the National Water Standards Regulations, and the National Environmental Management Act.

As a result, the municipalities have been directed to install enough water connections to supply a minimum 25 litres of potable water per person per day to residents of the three towns and Jachtkraal Farm, and to ensure that no resident is further than 200m from a source of potable water. Residents must be provided with proper toilets, and the municipalities must within one month consult with the provincial Department of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs, and the Department of Water and Sanitation, and engage with residents to fully assess the towns’ water and sanitation infrastructure. The municipalities also have to determine the cost of fixing it.

The municipalities are also directed to submit a report to the SAHRC under oath, within two months after completing the assessment, describing the steps to be taken in the short, medium, and long term to address the water and sanitation failures within the towns and Jachtkraal Farm.

Failure revealed in national data

Data on the national Department of Water and Sanitation Integrated Regulatory Information Services (IRIS) website show that the sewage treatment works in Ottosdal and Delareyville fail to treat sewage to minimum standards before releasing it into local river systems. The IRIS website reflects the results of monthly tests on the quality of effluent released from sewage treatment works, as well as the quality of drinking water in municipalities across the country.

The three million litres of effluent from the Delareyville sewage works had an average 0% compliance over the last 12 months for microbiological indicators (E. coli and enterococcus bacteria). The four million litres per day flowing from the Ottosdal sewage works into the Klein-Harts River complied with microbiological indicators in only a third of tests over the last 12 months. These results reveal significant sewage treatment failure and resultant pollution of the environment into which the effluent is released.

The IRIS site shows six different drinking water distribution systems in Tswaing Local Municipality. Five of these have 0% compliance across all three microbiological and chemical indicators, which is a possible indication that no testing for the quality of drinking water is taking place, despite it being a legal requirement. At one distribution system - a borehole in Delareyville – compliance with minimum standards for the presence of microbiological indicators was at 55% and compliance with acute chemical indicators was at 85%.

For drinking water, a minimum 97% compliance is required.

A businessman in the Sannieshof township of Asiganang, speaking to GroundUp on Thursday last week, said nothing had changed since the SAHRC site visit in 2021.

The businessman, who asked not to be named as local politicians “will do anything to stop people from talking”, said he woke up to a smell of sewage every day, and recently had sewage pooling in his yard and flowing into the street. He said drinking water only flowed through the taps from 6pm to 6am, and sometimes, it smells like sewage.

He said this was the case about a week ago, and he had suffered from diarrhoea since then. Complaints to the municipality were met with no response, he said.

No response was received to questions sent to the district and local municipal managers.

TOPICS:  Water

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