South Africa’s rivers have become a dumping ground for the blood of slaughtered cattle as more and more unscrupulous businesses set up abattoirs next to streams and discard their waste illegally.
Thandi Mopai, acting head of the Blue Scorpions, an enforcement arm of the Department of Water and Sanitation, has declared war on the culprits,who are using municipal facilities to carry out these environmental malpractices.
A legal battle has been raging between the department and KW Slagpale Abattoir in the Free State town of Vrede.
The abattoir paid a fee to the Phumelela local municipality for the use of its waste water treatment plant to get rid of cattle blood, with the intention of recycling it.
However, the deal has created a life-threatening health hazard for the small town as the sludge from the dysfunctional plant has blocked drains and sewage is seeping through manholes.
The department has interdicted both the abattoir and the municipality.
The Bloemfontein High Court last month ruled that the abattoir cease forthwith to discharge blood and waste from its business into the Spruitsonderdrift River, a tributary of the Vaal River. Following the court ruling, it has been incumbent upon the Blue Scorpions to monitor compliance by the abattoir and the municipality.
Non-compliance may result in the enforcement unit returning to court to press charges against the culprits that could result in heavy fines.
Action was taken against KW Slagpale after members of the public blew the whistle on the Phumelela local municipality in Vrede, which is a short distance from Villiers. Residents of Thembalihle township complained about the sewage that was seeping into the Spruitsonderdrift River, from the dysfunctional Vrede Waste Water Treatment Works.
An investigation by the Blue Scorpions resulted in the identification of a whole range of environmental infringements that were placing the lives of local communities at risk.
These included the fact that Pump Station A in Extension 3 of Thembalihle was not operating during the time that the service provider contracted by the municipality, TN Molofe Construction, was busy refurbishing it.
The pollution had apparently been a problem on and off for approximately seven years.
Raw sewage that was supposed to flow into the pump station was overflowing into the nearby stream leading to the Spruitsonderdrift River as the existing sump was full.
The service provider was required to construct a channel muncher to prevent solid waste from going into the sump.
The sewerage pipeline, which was built next to the stream, connected to the abattoir which was only 500m away from the stream. Waste from the abattoir was causing the blockage in the pipeline.
The service provider’s work included building a new pipeline that would flow into the Vrede waste water treatment plant.
The enforcement unit also found that the sewerage connection to new houses that had been built in an area called Extension 4, approximately 2km from the stream, was dysfunctional and a threat to the health and safety of residents.
The construction of the sewer reticulation system was inadequate, resulting in the sewage overflowing into the stream.
Litres of blood were being discharged from the abattoir into the stream through the submersible pipe.
There was no electricity connection to the pump station at the time of inspection, although the intention was to provide such a connection.
A blocked manhole nearby was overflowing, as were many in different parts of the township, according to reports.
Several factors contributed to the overflowing manholes, including a shallow slope which did not allow for gravitation of the sewer, and the fact that some members of the community had dumped objects in the manholes.
The service provider’s scope of work includes building new manholes as well as unblocking existing manholes.
As part of its intervention, the department plans to establish an emergency dam as a back-up in the event of a power failure.
The dam will be allocated a mobile pump to prevent waste flowing into the Spruitsonderdrift River.
The mobile pump will pump waste back to the large manhole.
Another finding by the Blue Scorpions was that Pump B station was not operating as it had been dismantled while the workers employed by the service provider were on site refurbishing it.
The combination of a small sump and non-operational submersible pumps resulted in a situation in which sewage was being fed backwards into three township houses. The temporary solution to this was to disconnect the houses from the sewer line. The disconnected houses will be connected to the Pump A station line.
The submersible pumps will be replaced by two new, bigger pumps.
The Free State has become notorious for abattoirs taking short cuts and breaking the laws governing the elimination of animal carcasses and remnants of fat in order to make quick money. Certain municipalities have been accused of facilitating malpractice and colluding with this criminal behaviour.
It has become common practice for abattoir owners to bribe corrupt municipal officials to get them to agree to incinerate carcasses and rotten fat in municipal incinerators.
In another case in 2014, the Blue Scorpions closed in on the premises of Chris Le Roux who runs an abattoir at Villiers in the Free State. Pumping facilities were dismantled in the abattoir when it was found that Le Roux was operating without a water use licence.
Accompanied by the police, members of the enforcement unit also laid criminal charges against Le Roux for polluting the Vaal River by dumping animal carcasses and fat remnants alongside the river.
Le Roux was found to be in violation of the National Water Act which precludes anyone from dumping waste within the perimeters of a river.
He also faced a charge of violating the Water Act by operating his business without a water use licence.
Le Roux had consistently ignored pre-directives and directives (warning notices) to stop dumping the sludge from his abattoir on the banks of the river and to apply for a water use licence to operate his business.
Investigations by the Blue Scorpions revealed that Le Roux had connived with certain corrupt municipal officials. Subsequently, the court found him guilty of transgressing the National Water Act and he paid a heavy fine.
Abattoirs are required in terms of the National Water Act to obtain a water use licence to dispose of their waste according to environmentally accepted standards.
Efforts by the Blue Scorpions to curb illegal practices that are contaminating the country’s rivers have intensified over recent months.
With the scarcity of water in the country, rivers have become an increasingly vital resource and they must be protected from polluters at all times.
It is unpalatable that the irresponsible pollution of streams takes place against the backdrop of the World River Day celebrations when citizens of the world are expected to preserve and maintain their rivers according to minimum international environmental standards.
* Khumalo is Content Developer for the Department of Water and Sanitation.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.