Johannesburg - The Thaba Chweu Local Municipality was found guilty and fined R10 million for the Contravention of Environmental Laws, since 2011, when the community of Mashishing started complaining about the unsafe state of water.
The municipality in Mpumalanga was found guilty at the Lydenburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
The charges relate to the unauthorised disposal of waste, unlawful water use, causing significant pollution to the environment, unlawful negligent disposition and distribution of raw untreated sewerage, failure to comply with the conditions stipulated in the Water Use Licence, issued in terms of Section 28 of the National Water Act, and failure to comply with a directive in terms of Section 19 and 53 of the National Water Act 36 of 1998.
The community of Mashishing, in Mpumalanga, has been complaining about sewer spillages and contaminated water flow for almost 11 years.
The decision to lay criminal charges against the municipality came in April, 2022, following an assessment made by the Department of Water Affairs and Environmental Affairs, in 2021, following a docket of their findings brought to the Director of Public Prosecutions office.
“Since the first appearance, the defence and the State had negotiations which subsequently came to a plea and a sentence agreement, where the municipality pleaded guilty to seven counts related to the Contravention of National Water Act,” said Nyuswa
The municipality has also come under fire previously, when The African Unified Movement (AUM) and the DA joined forces to address the concerns within the municipality, and also submitted a motion of no confidence against Friddah Nkadimeng, the executive mayor of Thaba Chweu Local Municipality.
The municipality has also allegedly not made any efforts to repay their R1bn debt with Eskom, among a long list of other complaints raised by the two parties.
The successful prosecution against the municipality was led by advocate Tula Bekwa, who led the investigation, plea and sentence agreement.
The municipality has been fined R10m – half was suspended for five years on condition that the municipality is not convicted of the same or similar offence within the five years suspension period.
“Effectively, R4.8m is to be used in urgent repairs, and refurbishment of the municipal infrastructure and R200 000 of the R5 million fine is to be used as payment for compensation to the Department of Environmental Affairs, in Equal Shares, for the expenses incurred during the investigation stages,” said Nyuswa
“We believe that this sentence will serve as a deterrent effect to certain organs of the state, who do not uphold the rule of law,” said the Director of Public Prosecutions advocate Nkebe Kanyane.
The municipality also weighed in regarding their sentencing and the way forward.
The Thaba Chweu Local Municipality spokesperson Themba Sibiya said: “The municipality welcomes the court judgment and we are committed to abide by the directives of the court order, and we are hoping to resume work to resuscitate and fix the plant as soon as possible, to ensure that we stick to all the timelines that the court had directed us.
“To finish some work and finish reports that are to be provided to the relevant stakeholders. Yes, mistakes happened and we have learned from them and, currently, our focus is to redeem ourselves as the municipality and provide crucial services to the community.”