Picture: Supplied

Johannesburg - The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) on Wednesday called on the South African Human Rights Commission to order an intervention and financial rescue plan for the Emfuleni local municipality.

The Commission has been holding hearings this week into whether the pollution of the Vaal River in the municipality violates human rights.

Outa said it had made a written and verbal submission to the commission on the collapse of Emfuleni’s finances and service delivery, particularly the sewerage system which has resulted in the pollution of both Emfuleni and surrounding rivers including the Vaal.

"Emfuleni has effectively collapsed. Outa wants the Commission to order the Gauteng government to intervene in Emfuleni, in terms of its constitutional obligations," Outa's manager for local governance Michael Holenstein said.

"We want the Commission to order the province to implement a financial rescue plan and a turn-around strategy package for Emfuleni and we want the community and civil society to be involved in those processes."

"The collapse of the municipality and the failure by provincial and national government to intervene leaves the Emfuleni residents facing sewage spills, electricity and water cuts with no recourse. We need the Commission to order an intervention," he said.

Holenstein said Outa had attempted to engage with Emfuleni management, the provincial and national departments of cooperative governance as well as Gauteng premier David Makhura with little success.

Outa’s written submission to the Commission says "Emfuleni, the former industrial heartland of Gauteng which created employment and wealth for the communities of Sebokeng, Vanderbijlpark, Vereeniging and Sharpeville, has now become a cesspit".

"Raw sewage flows into the Vaal River, Kliprivier and Rietspruit due to the wastewater treatment plants that have fallen into disrepair. The pump-stations can no longer pump the effluent to the plants due to cable theft, vandalism and irreparable electric motors, causing them to overflow," it says.

The rights watchdog provided data on the contamination of rivers as a result of untreated sewage from Rietspruit and Sebokeng wastewater treatment works in Emfuleni, with water downstream of both, particularly Sebokeng, showing pollution.

"The decay is clear. The damage has been done. Two directives and nine noncompliance notices have been issued. Outa believes that the last resort must be sought and criminal enforcement action to rectify these non-compliances is the only way to ensure accountability," it said.

"A precedent should now be set for all municipalities around the country to ensure that our and future generations’ basic rights are protected."

Holenstein said the national department of water and sanitation had spent more than R3 billion on wastewater treatment schemes for the Emfuleni region since 2011/12, but the plants were still failing. 

African News Agency (ANA)