Donwald Pressly

The North Gauteng High Court has ordered local government authorities to provide clean drinking water to the town of Carolina and the township of Silobela nearly seven months after the problem of acid mine drainage spewing into the area’s water sources was first reported.

Judge Moses Mavundla granted the urgent application yesterday by the Federation for a Sustainable Environment and the Silobela Concerned Community to provide temporary water to the area near Ermelo, Mpumalanga.

Although the water affairs minister and director-general were the first and second of 10 respondents, the judge ordered only the municipal manager of Gert Sibande district municipality and the mayor of Albert Luthuli local municipality to provide Carolina residents with drinkable water within 72 hours.

However, the judge ordered the sixth and seventh respondents – the acting executive mayor of the Gert Sibande district municipality and the municipality’s municipal manager – to engage actively “and meaningfully” with the first and second applicants to take steps to ensure “that potable water can once again be supplied through the water supply services in Silobela, Caropark and Carolina town in Carolina”.

The sixth and seventh respondents were also ordered to report to the court within one month on the measures that they had taken to ensure that potable water was supplied through the water services in Silobela, Caropark and Carolina.

At a media conference yesterday, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said she should not say it, but there “is war against the state here”. She was responding to a question about whether the mining companies, which had contaminated the water supply in the first place, would be forced to pay for the trucking in of water.

Noting that she was happy with a water survey done at the Bosmanspruit dam supplying the town and would be prepared to drink a glass of the offending water “if I was in Carolina”, the minister agreed that the mining houses should be forced to pay. Her reading of the law was that they were liable.

She said the national department had spent about R5 million trucking in water, which was apart from costs of providing alternative water by the municipalities and provincial government. She said some of the equipment was torched by community protesters.

The minister reported that four companies were involved in mining in the area. They were BHP Billiton, Siphethe Coal, Northern Coal and Xstrata. She said Siphethe and Northern had been working with the department to clean up the acid mine drainage problems.

DA spokeswoman Marti Wenger said it was extraordinary that the matter had to go to court in the first place. “It has taken them (the department) six or seven months to react.”

She said the Albert Luthuli local municipality was doing little to prevent sewage seeping into the dam.

Water Affairs Department spokesman Mava Scott noted that the court had not ruled against the either the national department or the minister.

The judge said, in his view, to expect the national government to interfere with administrative issues that resided with local government “would negate the very separation of spheres created by the constitution. I am persuaded by these submissions made on behalf of the first to fourth respondents.” He was “equally persuaded” not to impose costs on these four, including the minister, the department, the acting chief director-general of water affairs in Mpumalanga and the director of water affairs in Mpumalanga in charge of water regulation and use

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