Dead fish float in the Vaal River, which has had a steady stream of sewage running into it for months.​ Picture: Supplied
The SANDF unit deployed to clean the sewage spillage at the Vaal Dam and greater Emfuleni Local Municipality will be leaving at the end of the month, citing lack of funds to cover this extensive project. The clean-up was projected to cost over R1billion.

In January, members of the SANDF stationed in Emfuleni were forced to halt their operations to improve water infrastructure a month after their arrival, when the R350 million set aside for the clean-up project was depleted. They requested a further R240m to keep the project operational until June, but this did not materialise.

SANDF spokesperson Colonel Andries Mahapa said: “According to the mandate, the operation was until October 31 this year. We requested an extension to December but are still waiting for approval.”

Residents complained that the presence of the SANDF had not changed their situation and that raw sewage still flowed into their homes and on to streets, also contaminating fish in streams feeding into the Vaal River.

Boipatong resident Thembi Mbekwa said: “The stench of the sewage has been with us for years and the municipality is not helping us. The SANDF tried to fix the pipes but nothing has changed.”

The 59-year-old mother of three blamed the ruling party. “The ANC promised to fix this mess, but nothing has been done and I regret giving them my vote.”

In Evaton, Mabel Ramohlapi has had to live with sewage spills inside her home for years without assistance from the municipality.

“Dirty water comes through the toilets and I can’t flush or get rid of it. I don’t know if it is because the pipes are blocked or what. Every time I try to flush, water flows into the kitchen and into my neighbour’s yard and the street. We live with a constant stench here, like pigs,” she said. Three Rivers’ DA councillor Dalene Venter said the situation was also dire in her area, adding that the sewerage pipes were old and could not accommodate thousands of people living in the area.

“Repairs on pipes don’t last long and the problem of overflowing sewers keeps repeating itself. In the older areas of Three Rivers, sewer lines run in backyards and when blocked they flood inside the houses. In Extension 1 and 2, sewage runs into stormwater pipelines into the Vaal or Klipriver.”

Save the Vaal chairperson Maureen Stewart said water pollution in Emfuleni was caused by the breakdown of the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant, which has not treated raw sewage since May 2018.

Replying to questions in the National Council of Provinces in Parliament this week, Deputy President David Mabuza said he had had several discussions with Minister of Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu regarding Emfuleni. They visited in September, when he promised he would approach the Treasury for more funds for the project.

“The Department of Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation has reprioritised an amount of R240m of its regional bulk infrastructure grant budget towards the mitigation of the Vaal River pollution and to also pay the SANDF,” said Mabuza.

Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said his department was aware of the army’s departure in the Vaal, adding that they were working with the affected municipalities and province and had appointed East Rand Water Care Company to oversee the rehabilitation of sanitation infrastructure.

Sunday Independent